FEATURE —COVID-19-related measures have Americans spending more time than ever working, attending school or shopping online. This captive audience is tempting to fraudsters who are finding more efficient and creative ways to steal insurance, medical and banking information, as well as other personal data.
According to 2019 fraud studies, identity fraud victims’ out-of-pocket costs doubled from 2016 to 2018, totaling nearly $1.7 billion. Experts warn this amount could potentially increase by the end of the pandemic.
Emboldened by the chaos created by COVID-19, cybercriminals are moving beyond banking and credit cards into other, less obvious areas. Scammers are now adept at breaching customer loyalty accounts, mobile phones and retirement savings accounts. Professional cyber thieves are often able to fool even sophisticated verification processes.
Older Americans who have been forced to spend more time online are primary targets for those pushing vaccine scams, bogus text-message campaigns, robo-calls and fake emails. Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to mitigate the risk of becoming a victim of online theft.
Become more aware
Exercise vigilance when it comes to all your accounts. This includes automated bill-paying accounts, banking and checking, credit cards and any site where you store personal information. Use a shredder for any important personal information you’re going to discard. Many accounts give you the option to receive instant notifications if suspicious activity is detected, a feature that could be helpful.
Never reveal your personal or financial information online. Use caution even when entering data into local or city government, insurance and financial or utility websites. If you can, call these entities and verify your identity over the phone. Assume that anything posted on social media sites could be made public and available to con artists and other criminals.
Keep your phone and computer updated regularly. Software and hardware manufacturers routinely discover weaknesses that hackers can exploit to steal data. Updating your devices consistently helps ensure you don’t miss important security fixes that make you vulnerable to being hacked. If you receive many requests daily to update your email system, verify by calling your service, do not click on the link.
Use “multifactor” authentication on password-protected accounts. Using multifactor authentication can be a bit of a hassle, but multiple forms of verification, such as having codes texted to you, can help discourage hackers. And 123456 is not a good password!
Hang up on ‘spam’ and robocalls
Trust your gut when you get calls from numbers you don’t recognize or texts that don’t seem quite right. Hang up immediately and report the number as spam.
Put a red flag on all communications concerning COVID vaccines. Unless you are 100% sure the text, email or phone call you get is from local authorities, be cautious about responding to vaccine or testing “information.” Watch for text scams that claim to have COVID-19 cures for sale or offer to sell you admission to testing sites or at-home test kits.
Watch out for fake government communications
If you are asked for any personally-identifying information, including your Social Security number, date of birth or a credit card number, be extremely cautious. You should never pay money in advance to sign up for the vaccine or get an appointment.
Be skeptical about any text, email or call you get from sources claiming they are from the Social Security Administration, the IRS, the state health department or other government agencies. Government employees will not threaten you with cutting off benefits if you don’t provide information. Unless you have specifically asked for a phone call or text, most government agencies will never contact you except through regular mail.
The IRS does not call you on the phone and threaten you; neither does the Social Security Administration – these are scammers.
Bottom line: Online criminals are taking advantage of the pandemic’s unusual circumstances to ramp up their data theft and scams. Leveraging fears surrounding the virus, these thieves invent new ways to entice naturally cautious people into giving up vital financial information.
Even if you spend limited time online or using your mobile device, you need to be diligent about the type of information you share online and with whom you share this data.
Copyright © Lyle Boss, all rights reserved.