While it’s always critical to be cognizant of scams, it’s important to know they tend to be more prevalent during times of crisis. As the COVID-19 pandemic evolves, scammers will unfortunately be out there trying to take advantage of people who may be more vulnerable right now. Fortunately, there are things you can do to protect yourself and avoid fraud.
Here’s what to look out for:
Wire Transfer Fraud
If you’re in the process of buying a home, be extremely vigilant when wiring money such as escrow or closing funds. Cyber criminals have been known to hack into email accounts, sometimes posing as real estate agents or title companies and providing fake wiring instructions. These email tactics have gotten more sophisticated, so to protect yourself, always confirm wiring instructions with a phone call to a trusted and verified number that has been independently obtained. Be very wary of any request to change the wire instructions you have already received, as this is rare.
Many people are looking for ways to help our communities and those in need during the pandemic. This includes donations to charity, but unfortunately the charities aren’t always legitimate. Hackers can duplicate nonprofit websites and also pretend to be part of an organization in need of donations, only to pocket the money for themselves. If you are interested in donating, research the organization beforehand and don’t let anyone pressure you into it. Also be mindful of how you pay. If you are asked to wire money or pay via cash or gift card, these are among the red flags to watch out for.
If you are eligible for stimulus program benefits like the one-time government payment, be aware that there are scammers out there who are claiming they can expedite the process. Payment will arrive via mail or direct deposit, and if it haven’t been received yet, the best thing to do is wait and visit the IRS website to check on the status. The IRS will not call, email, or text message you to verify your financial information, so if you receive anything like that, know that it is a scam and do not respond or click any links.
Likewise, some scammers are pretending to be government representatives and reaching out to people to request funds for COVID-19 testing, financial relief, and medical equipment. Remember that the government will not contact you this way, and a situation like this is most likely a phishing attempt to get your personal information or money.
Those who are in the rental market should always keep in mind that scammers can post property ads on websites like Craigslist or on social media. Often times these scammers will advertise a property (that they have no connection to) at a very attractive price using photos from other listings. Once prospective tenants reach out, the scammer might request an upfront payment to hold as a security deposit in order to let you see the property.
While we’re looking to protect ourselves, our families, and our communities during this time, be cautious of fraud schemes through phone call, emails, social media, and in-person contact. To report fraud, visit the FTC website.