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Fraud alerts: COVID-19 scams to look out for
With so much uncertainty in our world right now, the presence of COVID-19-related fraud and scams is an unfortunate reality. Now, more than ever, it’s important to be vigilant about your protected information and, as your financial institution, we’re committed not only to providing the utmost security for your accounts, but also to increasing awareness around common schemes. We’ll keep an updated list of known scam attempts and tips to stay safe, so check back often to remain in the know. And remember: we will never call you and ask for your account information, social security numbers, or other sensitive material.
The FTC is a great resource for consumers during this time. See below for their recommended best practices and visit their website to learn more.
- Don’t respond to texts, emails, or calls about checks from the government. Here’s what you need to know.
- Ignore online offers for vaccinations. There are no products proven to treat or prevent COVID-19 at this time.
- Be wary of ads for test kits. The FDA recently announced approval for one home test kit, which requires a doctor’s order. However, most test kits being advertised have not been approved by the FDA, and aren’t necessarily accurate.
- Hang up on robocalls. Scammers are using illegal robocalls to pitch everything from low-priced health insurance to work-at-home schemes.
- Watch for emails claiming to be from the CDC or WHO. Use sites like coronavirus.gov and usa.gov/coronavirus to get the latest information. And don’t click on links from sources you don’t know.
- Do your homework when it comes to donations. Never donate in cash, by gift card, or by wiring money.
Be on the lookout for some of these trending scams being reported from the FTC. This blog post is a great way to stay in touch with what other consumers have seen as well.
- The top complaint categories relate to travel and vacations, online shopping, bogus text messages, and all kinds of imposters.
- While reports of robocalls are way down overall, we’re now hearing about callers invoking the COVID-19 pandemic to pretend to be from the government, or making illegal medical or health care pitches, among other topics.
- If you’re getting calls, emails, or texts, or you’re seeing ads or offers online, keep a few things in mind: First, the government will never call out of the blue to ask for money or your personal information (like Social Security, bank account, or credit card numbers). And second, anyone who tells you to pay by Western Union or MoneyGram, or by putting money on a gift card, is a scammer. The government and legit businesses will never tell you to pay that way.
- The big states have, not unexpectedly, the biggest number of reports. You can check out how many people are reporting what in Georgia.
Below are some additional tips from the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud. If you believe you are a victim of a scam or attempted fraud involving COVID-19, you can report it without leaving your home by calling their hotline at 866.720.5721 or via the NCDF Web Complaint Form.
- Be cautious of unsolicited healthcare fraud schemes of testing and treatment through emails, phone calls, or in person. The U.S. have medical professionals and scientist working hard to find a cure, approved treatment, and vaccine for COVID-19. Learn more about what to avoid
- Be the lookout for an increase in cryptocurrency fraud schemes including but not limited to blackmail attempts, work from home scams, paying for non-existent treatments or equipment, or investment scams. Read more on how to report these scams
- Be wary of unsolicited telephone calls and e-mails from individuals claiming to be IRS and Treasury employees. Remember, the IRS’s first form of communications is by mail—not by phone. Learn more about fraudulent schemes related to IRS
Scams on the rise during COVID-19
During national or global disasters, many criminals use this as an opportunity to prey on people when they’re the most vulnerable. As the coronavirus continues to wreak havoc, scams are on the rise, too. It’s critical to be vigilant and make yourself and your family members aware of these schemes, so you and your loved ones don’t fall victim to fraud.
With unemployment rapidly increasing, this leaves many people desperate for any job they can find. Unfortunately, this is the perfect opportunity for criminals to use this to their advantage. Fraudsters are posting work-from-home jobs that promise easy money with no effort—your first red flag. These scammers often communicate through web-based services, like Gmail or Yahoo.
Their ultimate goal is to use you as a money mule—allowing others to use your bank account or conduct financial transactions on your behalf. Not only is this illegal, but this also puts you in financial jeopardy. These criminals could have access to your bank account and completely drain it. If a job posting seems too good to be true, it probably is. Listen to your gut—if someone who claims to be an employer is asking you to transfer money or is asking you to open bank accounts in your name for their business, contact authorities immediately.
People claiming to be overseas and needing help
Watch out for people claiming to be overseas and needing help. Criminals are pretending to be a member of the military or a U.S. citizen working or quarantined abroad, asking potential victims to send money on behalf of themselves or a loved one battling the coronavirus. Fraudsters are also claiming to work for a medical equipment business or charity asking people to send money on their behalf. These requests are typically seen in the form of emails, phone calls, or private messages. If someone you don’t know is contacting you for money, chances are, it’s not legitimate.
Criminals making these claims cause serious damage. Not only does it harm you and your family, but it also harms people who need financial help and organizations that heavily rely on monetary donations. When donating, never pay with cash, gift card, or by wiring money.
Relief payment scams and phony emails
As relief payments roll out, many scammers are taking advantage of this opportunity as well. The most important thing to know is that you do not have to do anything to receive your stimulus payment. As long as you filed taxes in 2018 or 2019, you’ll receive a payment. So, if someone claims you must “sign up” to receive your relief payment, or calls asking for personal information, like your social security number or bank information, that person is a scammer.
Also, watch out for phishing emails from people claiming to work for the government. People will claim to be from the CDC or WHO offering information pertaining to the coronavirus. Don’t click links from sources you don’t know. Visit coronavirus.gov or usa.gov/coronavirus for official, reliable information.
What to do if you think someone is trying to commit fraud
If you believe a fraudster is trying to scam you, it’s important to act quickly. Gather evidence, whether it’s emails, receipts, or phone numbers, and report the scam to the appropriate authorities. Afterwards, be sure your accounts are secure and watch for any fraudulent activity. More than ever, it’s especially important to be observant, so you or your family members don’t become victims of these crimes.
Avoid The Sucker Punch: 6 Scams On The Rise
Scams have been around for, well…forever. Whether it’s for information, money, or power, unsuspecting people have been duped time and time again.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, there have been more than 1.4 million reports of fraud in 2018. Twenty-five percent of those reports included a combined financial loss of $1.48 billion, a 38% increase over 2017.
How do scammers get away with cheating so many innocent people out of their money? Sometimes they don’t, but given the statistics, they score more often than you might think—a lot more. With advances in technology, the volume of personal information people are willing to divulge, and a little evil-minded creativity, scammers are getting smarter every day. If you’ve ever been a victim, you know how easy it is to fall prey, especially when you’re caught off guard.
Fraudsters concoct new ways of deceiving people daily, so it’s nearly impossible to cover them all. Here are six scams that have gained popularity and are making the rounds lately:
1. Facebook questions scam
Have you ever answered the random surveys on Facebook? Who was your first roommate in college? What was your first car? What’s your favorite food? How about “answer these 20 questions about yourself and then tag another person to do the same?” It may seem harmless, but you’re giving away a ton of private information that could jeopardize your account security. If scammers manage to get one or two of your questions and answers, they can easily reset the password to your social media accounts, bank account, Amazon account, Venmo or Paypal account, and more. In the meantime, keep scrolling when you see those question and answer posts.
2. The grandparent scam
Although this isn’t a new scam, reports of it have been on the rise lately.
A scammer has a child about the same age as the victim’s grandchild, call the grandparent in tears. “Hi Grandma, this is Johnny. Please don’t call my parents. I need you to bail me out of jail, and then I’ll explain.” Or it could be, “I got into a fight, and I’m at the hospital. I know I sound a little different, but that’s because my nose is broken…I have a terrible cold, or I’m really upset.” Whatever the excuse, they need money—and quick! A grandparent might offer a credit card number over the phone or wire cash with all intentions of getting the details later.
Seniors are especially vulnerable, so you need to impress upon them that any time a family member supposedly calls asking for money, they should be skeptical. How can they make sure it’s a real emergency? Hang up and call the grandchild back on their cell phone, call the courthouse if they’re asking for bail money, call the hospital if they need money to pay a bill, or call someone who can confirm their whereabouts. This scam is all about creating panic, so the victim simply reacts without trying to make sense of the situation.
3. Fortnite scam
With its 125 million players, Fortnite: Battle Royale might be the most popular video game in the world, but some of those players are there for a different kind of challenge.
V-bucks are the game’s currency, and oftentimes, scammers will offer players discounted or free V-bucks. The more V-bucks you have, the quicker you can elevate your game, and someone’s offering a deal? Heck, yeah! Just follow the simple instructions, and you’ll be advancing your “Battle Pass” standing in no time.
Most scammers will send you to a website where you share a code from your Fortnite account, which, in turn, will allow them access to your payment information. That third-party site will also lure you with tempting pop-up ads, too, which inevitably lead to downloaded malware. Stay focused on the game, play by the rules, and don’t share any personal information—it’s the only chance you have to be the last one standing!
4. Disaster relief scam
Sadly, in the wake of a disaster, fraudsters come out of the woodwork. They’ll create bogus charities, solicit donations from caring and genuinely concerned people who want to help, and then RUN!
Meanwhile, not only does the donor lose, but the cause it was intended for loses too. Take, for example, Hurricane Dorian, the category five storm that pummeled the Bahamas in September. The Tampa Bay Times reported that scammers posed as a popular television meteorologist and solicited donations that funded a phony Bahamas hurricane relief site.
How do you trust that you’re making a donation to a legitimate charity and that the money will benefit people in need? The most secure way is to do your research and verify the specific organization through Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, GuideStar, or the BBB’s Wise Giving Alliance. Never contribute by way of a social media platform. Instead, go directly to the charity’s website.
5. Airbnb scam
This Airbnb scam was active in 2017, but it seems to be rearing its ugly head again.
Most of us can agree that reserving an Airbnb is a relatively simple process. It can be significantly less expensive, more convenient, and just as comfy as a hotel room. It’s a fantastic alternative until you arrive at a house that’s already booked by someone else, or even worse, it doesn’t exist! How’s that for a dream vacation? Scammers are creating fake listings on the popular site and directing renters to a fraudulent third-party website to make their payment.
How do you avoid being caught up in this nightmare? You should never communicate outside of the Airbnb platform and never pay cash. Instead, use your verified bank account or credit card. Read the reviews and make sure they all sound like they’re describing the same place, and engage with the landlord through the Airbnb messaging system before you rent.
There’s also the reverse Google image verification. Once you find a place that looks like a viable option, make sure the images you see are the real deal. Right-click on an image, copy its URL and paste it in the search box at images.google.com. Hopefully, you’ll see the property that you expect.
6. Netflix scam
Netflix has 51 million paid subscribers around the world, which makes for a perfect place to phish for some chillin’ couch potatoes. Imagine this: You’re sitting down to watch the newest season of The Crown when you get an email that says your monthly payment couldn’t be processed and your account is scheduled to be suspended TODAY. The email looks official, but the logo is a little smaller than usual, and when you hoover over the “Click Here” link, you see ad oddly long URL.
If you clicked the link, you’d be directed to a page that looks like the Netflix website, where you can enter your credit card information. Submit it, and where does that information go? Straight into the scammer’s hands.
If you step back for a minute, you might notice that the name in the “To” line isn’t yours. The “From” line might include the word Netflix, but also a much longer URL. The subject line says “RE [Alert],” along with too much other random information. It’s a scam.
It may be quicker and easier to follow the link, but you run a significant risk of fraud for the few keystrokes you save. Instead, go to the company’s site, enter your username and password, and update your information within the safety of their system.
The Federal Trade Commission’s website includes an ongoing and cumulative list of scams and fraudulent activity. To file a complaint and open an investigation, click here.
New Venmo Scam Targets Payment App Users
“A new Venmo scam is making the rounds nationally, one that can lead to massive financial losses in your Venmo account.
Payment apps are a fairly new invention, especially peer-to-peer apps that are connected to your bank account or a credit card. Unfortunately, what is not new is phishing scams.”
Continuing reading this article at idtheftcenter.org.
Car Wrap/Car Advertising Scam
One of the biggest scams that we are seeing this year at Georgia’s Own Credit Union is the car wrap or car advertising scam.
Here’s how the scam operates:
You receive an email asking if they would like to make some money by having their car wrapped in a well-known brand logo (e.g. Oral B, Dr. Pepper, or Rock Star Energy Drink). The offer sounds good, especially since there is the option of removing the wrapped sticker after a number of months. Once the offer is accepted, the scammers will send a check for a large amount of money, according to the length of time the member wants to be a “mobile advertiser”.
The instructions for cashing the check indicate that a certain portion of the money is to be kept as the member’s payment and the rest is to be sent via wire transfer to the company who will supposedly wrap their vehicle. After wiring the money, the original check will be returned and the total amount of the check will be debited from your account.
Keep in Mind / Ways to Recognize this Scam:
- Remember, no major brand would hire just anybody to wrap their cars with advertising. It’s great to get paid to advertise on your car, but corporations are very careful about their image and typically have large marketing departments in-house.
- The scammers steal images from websites belonging to reputable companies that do professional car wrapping and make the email recipient believe it’s their business.
- Delete the email, not every online job opportunity that comes your way is real. If you receive a counterfeit check, please shred or you can contact ERM Security at [email protected]
Beware of Wire Fraud
Protecting our members from fraud is always a top priority at Georgia’s Own. One of the areas in which financial institutions are seeing an escalation of fraud relates to wire transfers. Unsuspecting members are deceived into transferring or receiving funds electronically to/from fraudsters. Wire fraud is an intentional act to defraud another individual or entity of his/its money and this is a federal crime.
Fraudsters use a variety of tools including phishing emails, compromised websites/emails, and fake friend requests on social media sites to commit these crimes.
Examples of Wire Fraud:
- Wire request sent to an individual’s name for a real estate closing, instead of an Attorney’s office.
- An email is sent from “a family member who is in jail”, or a person “getting a divorce and they don’t want the rest of the family to know, and they need help”, so the money has to be sent to the lawyer representing them.
- An email is sent from “a member who is travelling overseas and needs some money wired to them because they got robbed in a foreign country and they have no cash.”
- A social media friend sent an email that they received an inheritance and they want to transfer the funds to the United States. The recipient is then asked if the money could temporarily be deposited to the recipient’s account and an offer is made to pay a percentage of the money to the recipient, once the money is transferred to a safer bank. The victim would provide their account number for the transfer to be completed.
Always verify where the money is supposed to be wired to — especially if you get wire instructions by email. Hackers can alter emails (even from people you’ve been working with for several weeks) and instruct you to send money to the wrong place. Be vigilant; always call the recipient to verbally verify the wire instructions. Anyone can be a victim of this type of fraud and should take every precaution to protect themselves.
When you receive funds into your account it’s important to verify you actually received a “real wire deposit” into your account. Fraudsters like to take advantage of their victims when they sense the victim is somewhat confused by promising to send a wire transfer but actually sending the funds using a different (reversible) method. Ask yourself these questions:
- Who sent the funds?
- What were the funds for?
- Where did the funds come from?
Preventing Wire Fraud:
Here are some general rules you should follow to guard against becoming a victim of fraudulent wire requests.
- Confirm email requests from a known party by phone or in person, in case their email has been hacked.
- Be wary of email-only wire transfer requests and requests involving urgency.
- Never wire money to people whom you don’t know – regardless of how convincing or legitimate their wire request looks and sounds.
- Ignore any offer from someone you don’t know who asks you to deposit a check in your account and then instructs you to wire that money to someone else.
- Never open attachments in unsolicited email.
- Frequently update anti-virus and anti-malware programs.
- Closely monitor your bank accounts on a daily basis.
What should a Georgia’s Own member do if they become a victim of a wire fraud? Please contact [email protected]. We also recommend that members contact local law enforcement, as well as the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (ic3) at www.ic3.gov.
With fraud scams becoming more sophisticated and more prevalent, Georgia’s Own is not only ensuring our policies and procedures are thorough and practiced, but we also want to educate our members on what they can do to avoid being victims of fraud. That’s why we remain committed at Georgia’s Own to protecting our members from being victims of fraud. We also want to raise awareness as to what our members should do to stop these fraudsters. After all, prevention is the best protection when it comes to fraudulent activity.