The swell of information surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a rise in cyber thieves exploiting consumer confusion and many victims falling for scams relating to the virus. As of May 5th, 2020, the FTC has received over 36,000 complaints1 related to COVID-19 with more the $24 million in total losses reported. These complaints include fraud, identity theft, phishing phone calls, and more.
Here are 3 ways identity thieves are currently trying to take advantage of COVID-19 uncertainty.
1. Stimulus Checks
Many people may still be anxiously awaiting their stimulus check to arrive from the U.S. government, either by mail or direct deposit into their bank account. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Better Business Bureau (BBB) have reported complaints from consumers who’ve received calls, texts, and emails asking them to provide personal information so that their stimulus check could be deposited or offering a way to receive payment more quickly.
The IRS does not contact people in any of these ways with regard to stimulus checks or to ask for personal information. Learn more from the FTC here.
2. Phishing Emails*
One common scam is a phishing email. These emails purport to be from a legitimate source but are intended to get you to click a link within the email. That link may be embedded with malicious software that could infect your computer with a virus or automatically download spyware, allowing a cyberthief to access or take control of your device.
Here are some of the common phishing* emails to look out for:
Cybercriminals have sent phishing emails designed to look like they’re from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. An example would be an email falsely claiming to link to a list of coronavirus cases in your area.
Health Advice Emails
Phishers have sent emails that offer purported medical advice to help protect you against the coronavirus. The emails might claim to be from medical experts and offer a link to safety measures.
Workplace Policy Emails
Cybercriminals have targeted employees’ workplace email accounts. Phishing emails may contain links to what might be described as ‘updated company policies’, but those links are actually embedded with malicious software that loads onto your device when you click them.
Emails may claim to be from the U.S. Department of Labor or unemployment-insurance personnel. One example could be a message saying that your unemployment-insurance claim is incomplete and you need to provide more information.
3. Unemployment Scams*
The pandemic has caused an increase in unemployment, and with it has come a host of scams. People who are trying to get unemployment benefits or secure new jobs can inadvertently give away personal or financial information that can be used for identity theft. Here are four common scams* to be on the alert for if you are seeking unemployment benefits or a new job.
Debit and direct deposit card scams
Scams may focus on how some states issue unemployment benefits. One scam asks you for personal information to apply for a debit card that your unemployment benefits will be direct-deposited to. Another scam has you apply for the card and then charges you for inactivity.
Fake phone call scams
Several states are seeing scams that involve fake communications via phone and text messages. The message may say the applicant’s unemployment benefits account has been suspended and the applicant must reactivate the account by calling a number — which then asks for personal information like debit card numbers and PINs.
Scammers sometimes pretend to be potential employers. They may contact you by phone and email to trick you into believing they have a job for you. Their real goal is to collect your personal information or to collect money from you for their assistance.
Fake website scams
Fraudulent sites exist that claim they will help you file your unemployment-insurance claim and collect your benefits. Only you can claim your unemployment benefits. The scammer’s goal is to collect as much personal information from you as they can get, and then use it for their own financial gain.
1Complaint data via the FTC’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) Consumer Complaint Data
*Protection for phishing and online scams applies only to devices on which Norton 360 is installed. Reimbursement does not apply to identity theft loss resulting, directly or indirectly, from phishing or scams.