How to protect yourself from online fraud

As if we didn’t have enough to think about during this uncertain time, now, some people are using COVID-19 as an opportunity to create scams, hoping we act upon our fears surrounding the coronavirus. Whether you’re already aware of these online scams, curious to know what is true or false, or hearing about scams for the first time, Greater Alliance wants to help protect you.

Read on to learn more about how to protect yourself from online fraud, including keeping your personal information and your finances safe.

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What are online scams?

Online scams are a type of fraud. While some can be easy to spot, others can seem very realistic. And that’s the scary part.

The primary purpose of a scam is to separate you from your personal information or your money. Scammers use platforms like emails, online messaging and phone calls to collect personal information. How do scammers get away with scamming? Online scammers are sly—they urge victims to feel and/or act in a particular way, usually under pressure. Scammers often flash big rewards or threaten victims with losses if they don’t provide information, now.

Three broad categories of online scams

There are three main, broad categories of online scams.

  1. Email money scams. Scammers send an email in an attempt to collect personal information. Usually, one can identify scam emails in a few ways:
  • The emails may have broken sentences or odd formatting
  • They may have malicious attachments
  • They will often be sent from an unfamiliar address. If you do not recognize the email address the note is coming from, it’s important you do not click within the email, or follow up with a response.
  1. Social media scams. Scammers often hack accounts in an attempt to identify as a familiar face. Never trust urgent, suspicious social media messages you receive from a friend or acquaintance expressing an emergency and asking for money. If you’re unsure, reach out the person separately to ask if they sent the message. You may be doing them a favor by alerting them to the hack.
  2. Personal information scams. By getting a hold of family or personal information, scammers will use this information to persuade you to take immediate action. When they sound knowledgeable, they also sound much more believable. These scammers may ask for financial information to take care of a family emergency or an alleged family debt.

Coronavirus scams

The Federal Trade Commission has reported an increase in online scams specific to the coronavirus. And the U.S. government is warning of common scams, as well. Here are a few COVID-19 scams to steer clear of:

Online Scams

Shopping

The scam: Scammers claim to have in-demand products. They will take your money and take your order, without ever sending you the products.

How to protect yourself: Verify the seller is legitimate. Look at customer reviews, do a web search for the company’s name and closely review the website for anything unusual before placing your order. If you’re unsure, don’t buy the product.

Test kits

The scam: Scammers are trying to sell coronavirus test kits and treatments. Some are specifically targeting senior citizens.

How to protect yourself: Don’t make these purchases, as home kits and treatments do not exist.

Charities

The scam: Scammers are taking advantage of people’s generosity and creating websites or content that use similar-sounding names to real charities.

How to protect yourself: Research the organization before donating. Search for a list of nonprofit organizations from sources like Guidestar® and others.

Fake emails

The scam: Scammers are duplicating logos and sending emails that appear to be from reliable organizations like the World Health Organization or Centers for Disease Control. The emails often include a link that when clicked gives scammers access to your computer and information.

How to protect yourself: Look for slight misspellings, extra punctuation or other errors. Don’t open an email from an unreliable source or take action within an email that does not seem reliable. Protect your computer by using security software and keeping it up to date. Back up your stored data and use multi-factor authentication on your accounts for extra security.

Phone scams

Banking

The scam: Scammers call, pretending to be from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) or your financial institution, saying that you may not be able to access your funds unless you provide personal information.

How to protect yourself: Hang up. The FDIC will not call you, and your financial institution would not call about accessing funds. Why? Because credit unions and banks are backed by the FDIC—your money is safe.

Robocalls

The scam: Scammers are using robocalls to pitch information that people may find helpful during these overwhelming times. From coronavirus treatments to work-at-home gigs, scammers are coming up with a long list of fake pitches that victims may find useful.

How to protect yourself: If you don’t recognize the number or the person, simply hang up.

Government checks

The scam: Because so many of us will be receiving stimulus checks, scammers are contacting people asking for personal information, they say it’s to ensure your check gets to you.

How to protect yourself: Hang up. The government does not need to call for your personal information. If you qualify for a check, you will receive it.

During these times, the last thing you need to worry about is getting your identity or money stolen. Stay ahead of scammers and avoid online fraud in two ways:

  • Take a step back and think through decisions. Online scammers create a sense of urgency to get you to make a decision in a hurry. They may even threaten you. Slow down, think through their story and do research before making decisions.
  • Reconsider how you pay. Credit cards have significant fraud protection built in. Wiring money is risky—it’s nearly impossible to get your money back. Reloadable gift cards are also a bad choice. Honest companies you can trust would never require you to use these payment methods.

I’m already a victim. Now what?

If you’ve fallen victim to an online scam, take action as soon as possible. Report the scam to the Federal Trade Commission, contact your financial institution, run anti-virus and anti-malware software on your computer, change all your passwords, and notify your friends and family of the online scam.

We’re here to help

By staying up to date on current online scams and knowing how to identify fraud, you decrease your risk of being a victim. Use resources like the Federal Trade Commission to help guide you.

Greater Alliance is here for you. If you have questions about online scams or are concerned about being a victim, call us at 888-554-2328 or email info@greateralliance.org. We’ll be happy to discuss how Greater Alliance helps keep you protected.