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Watch out for these virus-related scams

by Joshua D. Scroggin
April 14, 2020
Watch out for these virus-related scams


The phone rings late at night.

You pick it up, and it’s Venmo calling. There’s a problem with someone overseas possibly getting into your account. You need to secure it by providing the caller your username and password to prove you’re not responsible for the charges.

You share your information and hang up, thinking how great it was that your cash app vendor called to let you know about the hack attempt. Only, Venmo doesn’t make those kinds of calls.

Within the next few minutes, you see payments start leaving your account. First $50. Then $200. Then more and more.

Maybe it wasn’t a phone call. It was a text message to your phone asking you to click a link and login with your email and password to reconnect your account and prove your identity.  

The moment you share your credentials, however, that’s when the real crime happens.

Just within the past week, both of those scenarios happened to CoastHills members, prompting the Credit Union security experts to spring into action and help secure the members’ accounts from scammers who stole their login information and used that to steal money.  

Scammers are always out there, and the coronavirus pandemic is only giving them more opportunities to concoct schemes that may look or sound legitimate but are totally designed to victimize you.

Don't share your credentials. 

You may have heard of the term “phishing.” It’s one of the most common ways criminals will try to steal your sensitive data or plant malicious software on your computer or mobile device. Phishing attempts can land in your email, direct message or text message inboxes, enticing you to click on a link.

Clicking a link from this type of unsolicited message can trigger the download of viruses or send you to a website that tricks you into typing sensitive login credentials, like your email and password.

Often, the message will be spoofed to make it appear as if it is coming from your financial institution, a person-to-person payment app, a social media website or even a trusted national store or restaurant chain you frequent.

And new scams are popping up to take advantage of our focus on limiting the spread of COVID-19. 

Be Aware of Pandemic Scams

New messages may appear to be coming from government tax agencies like the IRS or health organizations like the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) or World Health Organization (WHO). They direct you to download documents to make sure you receive your relief funding or they will promise details on your workplace or business being labeled non-essential and ordered to be shut down. They may even promise to reveal the number of new or total cases of infection in your area.

Do not click a link or download a document, no matter how legitimate the communication might feel or reasonable the request might seem. Instead, go to the organization’s official website, find the contact page and reach out. Send a message or pick up the phone and call to verify.

Probably the best rule of thumb in any scenario is to ignore unsolicited emails or texts and delete them from your inbox. Unless the communication is something you signed up or asked for, it’s not worth your time. And even if it does seem to come from a trusted source, be wary of any person or website asking to provide your credentials or to log in.

Work-Related Scams to Watch Out For

More people than ever are working from home to help maintain social distancing and help stop the spread of disease. That has opened up another avenue for scammers to attack.

Responsible leaders and companies are sharing work-from-home strategies and information with their employees on how to flatten the coronavirus curve. Fraudsters know this and are launching scams to mimic these types of corporate communications.

Emails may appear to come from your company’s IT department, maybe even directly from your company’s president or CEO.

Before clicking on any corporate communication links or documents, scrutinize the sender of the email address. Is it coming from the true email address of the person its claiming to be? Is it from your company’s actual domain (example: IT@yourcompany.com)? Is everything spelled correctly? Is the branding consistent with other emails your company has sent?

Hover over any links without clicking on them and check to see if the destination page matches the URL its claiming to represent.

Double Check Before You Donate

It never fails, scammers are always looking to capitalize on a natural disaster by imitating legitimate charities or causes that are raising money to support those affected. They’ll prey on your desire and ability to help by intercepting funds they say are for nonprofits, but you’ll never know money you sent went to a criminal instead.

You may receive an email or a text message, again appearing to come from a legitimate source, asking for donations. Other times, you will see campaigns from donation sites like GoFundMe being circulated on social media. Always be suspicious of unsolicited requests for money. Even if they appear to be from websites you’ve heard of before. A massive increase of coronavirus related URLs are being purchased all over the world. It’s safe to assume that plenty of them will be used to make you think they are hosted by trusted brands or sources in an attempt to rip you off.

Even if the donation site you see on social media is real, how can you sort it out from a scam? Always do your diligence to research the cause and the recipient. Find out from a trusted friend or family member or the charity itself to see if the cause is true. It never hurts to make sure. Who knows? Perhaps you’ll find you can even help in a more important way than donating.

Invest wisely

Investing is a common theme for content during times when economic markets are stressed. Where can I put my money and have it grow exponentially when stocks eventually rebound?

While there is legitimate advice out there predicting conditions and steps for making returns on your investments, know that there is always risk with any type of investment. Also know that there are plenty of investment-related scams, too.

Beware of investment advice promoting virus cures or companies who stand to benefit from the public health emergency. Red flags to look for include pressure sales tactics or cold calls attempting to convince you to purchase assets with high fees or questionable value and promising high profitability or a “sure thing.”

Never invest in anything you do not understand. And if you ever have questions relating to an investment, always consult with a trusted source of information, like the wealth management team at your financial institution. You can get in touch with CoastHills Wealth Management by visiting their website.

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