Identity thieves often target people who may be experiencing financial difficulties, and are therefore vulnerable to attacks. The economic challenges caused by COVID-19 and the government programs implemented to help solve them have led to a number of serious scam attempts. We cover some of the more common scams here so that you are prepared to respond appropriately to protect yourself and your family.
Questions about the coronavirus pandemic?
Visit the Coronavirus Legal Center and ask a lawyer today.
What are some COVID-19 scams that I should watch out for?
Let’s review some of the most common scams already attempted during the COVID-19 crisis. These types of cyberattacks aren’t entirely new, but what is new is how cyber thieves are exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic to get people to let down their guard.
Stolen Economic Impact (Stimulus) Payments
At the beginning of the pandemic, the vast majority of Americans received a minimum of $1,200 by check, direct deposit, or prepaid debit card from the federal government. If the IRS couldn’t find your tax refund information, you could claim your payment through a special portal created on the IRS website. The portal was designed to be secure; however, it asked for the exact same type of information that identity thieves frequently steal to open bank accounts or credit cards in someone’s name. If you didn’t request your payment right away, identity thieves may have beaten you to it.
Fake COVID-19 Products and Services
In addition, scammers began to offer phony products such as face masks with a level of protection that didn’t exist or that were deliberately labeled incorrectly. Fake vaccines and at-home testing kits also appeared on the market. Taking advantage of the rising use of home delivery services, scammers set up fake delivery organizations, taking money in advance, but never delivering. Although the goal of these scams was to take money for a fake product or service, the information provided could be used later to steal identities.
Fake Government Officials
Scammers also began to impersonate government officials in emails, by phone, in letters, and even in person. Thieves may pose as health officials to schedule testing or contact tracing, as IRS employees handling stimulus payments, or as SBA officials managing small business loans. These scams have one goal in common: to get people to hand over their personal information to use later for identity theft.
As often happens during crises, fake charities and fake charitable collections have appeared, pretending to offer COVID-19 relief. Similarly, technically legitimate charities actually may be giving a very small portion of their donations to authentic charitable purposes.
How can I protect myself from scams and identity theft during COVID-19?
You can protect yourself from scammers today by applying the same common sense measures that you would take pre-COVID. For example, you should:
- Know whom you’re talking to. If you receive a phone call, hang up and return the call on a number posted publicly on an official website. If someone unexpectedly comes to your door, don’t give out personal information. Take their business card and handle it as if it were a phone call from an unknown number.
- Learn when to expect an authentic email. Emails should never arrive unexpectedly. However, some government agencies are using email for legitimate purposes during COVID-19. They probably will tell you ahead of time if they plan to contact you by email. If you have any doubts about an email, you can always call to verify its authenticity before you respond, download attachments, or click on any links.
- Research all charities, products, and services. If high-pressure tactics are used to make you give money or personal information without allowing you the time to think it over, more than likely, it’s a scam.
What should I do if I think I may have been scammed?
If it looks as if you may have been scammed, take immediate action. In other words, don’t wait until you notice money leaving your account to check for a scam.
- Check your credit card and bank statements on a regular basis. Examine them, not only for unauthorized charges to your account, but also for any changes to your contact information. File a Dispute Fraudulent Credit Card Transaction document if you don’t recognize a transaction.
- Monitor your credit report. If a new account appears on it that you don’t recognize, make a Request to Cancel a Fraudulent Credit Card document.
- Fill out an ID Theft Affidavit, which is a sworn statement that you have been the victim of identity theft and that you understand the criminal penalties for making a false statement. Doing so reassures the bank that you aren’t simply trying to avoid paying for your own purchases.
- Talk to a lawyer. Consumers have important legal rights regarding their responsibility for unauthorized transactions and what creditors are required to do after a report of identity theft has been received. To help enforce your rights, learn the specific steps to take and make sure those steps are taken by the posted deadlines. If you have a legal question about your specific situation, you can ask a lawyer for help.
To receive additional assistance with a legal issue related to COVID-19, or to learn more about any other legal relief that may be available to you, check out our COVID-19 Legal Center.
This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.