How to Avoid Covid-19 Based Cyber Scams This Holiday Season
This year your traditional Holiday celebrations are going to be different from previous years as we focus on socially distancing. One tradition that isn't changing this year is the fact cybercriminals are looking for new ways to trick you out of your money and identity. Some of these scams are specific to the holiday season, others are specific to the COVID19 pandemic. Scams always increase during the Thanksgiving and Christmas season, but with the virus, you can be sure there will be scams designed to prey on people. Here's a look at some of the pandemic based scams and what you can do to keep yourself safe.
1. The Cryptocurrency Scam. Cryptocurrency has taken off in the past couple of years. If you're not familiar, it's an online currency that works outside of banks and government. Cryptocurrency scams come in the form of emails promising investment opportunities and ransomware attacks. Criminals focus on getting funds via cryptocurrency because once they get your money in the form of online currency, there is virtually no way to get your money back. If you are unfamiliar with investing, it's best to stick with investment firms. You can avoid malware by avoid phishing emails and texts that want you to click on a link to visit a website.
2. Checks from the government scam. In these tough financial times, people are looking for any way to keep food on the table and to get bills paid. Criminals will try to take advantage of this posing as the IRS or other government agencies to give you stimulus money. If you have people calling or emailing you asking for your personal information or wanting to charge you fees to help you get stimulus money, beware. The IRS will not call you or email you to offer stimulus money.
3. Fake charities scam. During this pandemic, scammers are trying to get your money by posing as a fake charity with names that sound like real charities. These usually come in the form of emails, texts, or fake social media accounts. Sometimes you are solicited via email or messages and posts that show up on your social media feed. Verify charities by going to Charity Navigator (www.charitynavigator.org). If you decide to donate to a charity, go directly to the website of the charity or download their app to your smartphone and tablet.
4. Social Media and Email Takeovers. Data breaches since 2012 have allowed a lot of personal data to be leaked on the web which is why professionals like myself recommend changing the passwords on your online accounts on a regular basis. If you don't get into the habit of changing passwords, you could become the victim of 'credential stuffing' which is the act of cybercriminals using your leaked information to log into your email, social media, and financial accounts. Get into the habit of checking out to see if your information is leaked by using LastPass or the Google Chrome password vault. These tools will notify you if your passwords show up on the dark web.
5. eGift Cards. eGift Card scams aren't new. Criminals focus on eGift Cards as a way to scam people because it's impossible to get your money back once you fall for this trick. The way hackers use this scam is stealing your account information and purchasing gift cards and sending fake alerts that notify you that you need to purchase a gift card to make a payment. Keep alert when people call out of the blue to ask you to pay with a gift card. If it sounds like a scam, it normally is.
6. The Puppy Scam. The demand for pets has increased drastically during the COVID19 pandemic because they can help with stress is PTSD. This results in criminals making fake posts for animals for sale. If you're looking for a pet, avoid online transactions. Go directly to an animal shelter or a breeder.
7. The New Job Scam. People have lost their jobs during the pandemic because of downsizing and businesses closing. Scammers pretend to be recruiters for new job opportunities getting their information from recruitment companies. Again, they are after your personal information and money. Do a check on the recruitment company and research to find out if the job opportunity is real before you commit to anything.
8. The Sweepstakes Scam. Who doesn't like winning free stuff? I know I do. These scams start off like most, you get a phone call, email or even a message on social media notifying you that you won the sweepstakes. The catch is always that you need to pay a fee in taxes to claim your prize. Obviously, if you really win a contest, there won't be a fee associated with collecting your prizes.
If you're like me, you always want to believe the best about people. Unfortunately, you need to be aware of all of the cybercrime activity that is occurring in the digital age. Cybercriminals don't care about you or your family and have been known to wipe out people's bank accounts and retirement funds. To avoid falling victim to these scams always remember if you are requested to pay money in advance or by gift card, it's not a legitimate source. Also, be careful with who you share your personal information with online, by text message, or email.
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