COVID-19 Related Scams Are Surging—Protect Yourself with These Tips
With the worldwide pandemic, there is enough to worry about in regards to our safety and livelihood — the last thing individuals and communities need to be concerned about are scammers trying to con their way into lives and wallets using the fear of the coronavirus as their “in”.
Fortunately, there are plenty of precautions that can be taken to stay physically safe such as staying home when possible and washing your hands, but what about the precautions to stay safe financially and in turn, mentally? Preventative measures such as avoiding online offers for vaccinations, being wary of ads for test kits, and not handing out any personal information via phone or internet are great steps to keep yourself secure from online scammers.
As everyone is spending much more time online, in both personal and professional capacities, various scams are surging amongst communities. These scams are taking advantage of individuals’ and families’ concerns, worries, and desperation. These cons are not only affecting personal lives but companies’ viability as well, as scammers are exploiting those who let their guard down.
We’ve compiled some of the most prominent scams you may come across and identified tools to help you avoid them:
As scammers begin to see the height of concern for those with financial and medical woes on the brain, they will try calling households claiming to be health insurance agents selling affordable insurance to cover coronavirus “treatment.” Anyone offering a health policy that has a coverage provision is likely a scam, so hang up on any similar call from an automated message and avoid sharing any personal information over the phone or by email.
In addition to robocalls regarding coronavirus “coverage,” you may receive a phony telephone call claiming that your current health plan was canceled, in efforts to stir up concern. This will likely be followed up with a toll-free number to call in order to “fix” the error, or if this communication is via the internet, a spam link will be provided that installs malware, so avoid this at all costs.
Many people must travel during these uneasy times, whether it is to relocate somewhere safer to shelter in place or to care for families and friends in need. Be vigilant when it comes to pitches for travel insurance that claim to cover COVID-19 affiliated trip cancellations. As Cory Sobczyk, the vice president for business development at Arch RoamRight, says, “Most travel insurance plans don’t offer coverage for pandemics like the coronavirus,” so look into what your policy does and does not cover, as companies may try to be vague to mislead you.
It’s widely known that there is no vaccine nor cure for COVID-19 just yet, so any message received regarding vaccines, drugs, or medicines that are “insured and paid for” by your health policy are false and should be disregarded. It is only natural to be tempted by promises of cures or preventative measures during this time, although considering this is the first time this virus has been seen in humans, there are no existing vaccines or drugs to treat COVID-19 that have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). While the FDA is working with manufacturers around the clock to develop new vaccines, it will likely take at least 18 months for a vaccine to be ready, according to Annelies Wilder-Smith, professor of emerging infectious diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and that is with no hiccups. Not only will these fraudulent products rob you of your money, but they could lead to life-threatening harm.
As so many employees are now working from home, video conferences are becoming the norm for meetings and check-ins for companies, as well as a platform for socializing during after-work hours. Cybercriminals have managed to edge their way into popular video conference software such as Zoom and Skype. By hacking into private video chats, hackers can leverage the screen-share feature to retrieve private information and/or display inappropriate content that boots attendees off the chat. While there is only so much one can do to steer clear of video hackers, being diligent to keep call dial-ins and video chat links private will help avoid the potential risk. If the content of your meeting is sensitive, Zoom now has a Waiting Room feature which prevents anyone from entering the chat until the host is ready.
With the abundance of people diagnosed with COVID-19, struggling to make ends meet while balancing finances and uncertainty, there are many incredible citizens and organizations coming together to create fundraisers through platforms such as GoFundMe. Unfortunately, with each genuine fundraiser comes fake pages that are created by scammers in hopes to con you out of your money. A foolproof way to avoid these imposter pages is to verify any links sent to you before sending any donations and be sure not to donate in cash, gift card, or by wiring money. If you come across a campaign or page on the popular website GoFundMe that appears blatantly fake, you can report it to their team. It’s also a good idea to keep your guard up with any requests seeking coronavirus related donations. If you are looking to help those in need, do some research and try to find a reputable organization that you can address your check to.
The best way to avoid these various scams is to simply never hand out personal information and avoid clicking any links from unknown people or spoof email addresses. Of course, there are situations where personal information is imperative to be provided a necessary service, so prior to doing so just be sure you’re chatting with an esteemed company and do the appropriate research. There are cybersecurity basics to keep in mind such as keeping your security software up to date, setting strong (and different) passwords for each of your devices and programs, and keeping your electronics nearby and never unattended in a public place.
Some more actions to take to keep yourself and your finances safe are to secure your home network by turning on encryption, safely storing sensitive files and information, and securely disposing of sensitive files and information. Another quick beneficial authentication subset is enabling 2-step verification, which will double your security measures and further protect you from any phishing attempts by allowing you to authenticate logins from another device.
As for securing your network, encrypting your internet traffic allows you to hide your browsing data on the web which includes personal information and auto-saved passwords. By encrypting your network traffic, any online activity will be concealed from ad tracking systems, your Internet Service Provider (ISP), and the government, making it much more difficult for hackers to gain access to your information. Many people aren’t aware that as of 2017, Internet Service Providers in the U.S. are permitted to sell their customer’s browsing patterns to advertisers so they can help tailor their targeted advertising to specific browsers. The knowledge that your searching habits are being sold certainly brings up a sense of discomfort, and with the awareness of various cyber scammers taking advantage of the pandemic, encrypting your internet connection is the safest option to keep your information private.
When it comes to your sensitive files, destroying them isn’t always an option. Even if it is, there are very specific ways to go about it to ensure they don’t end up in the hands of anyone else. If you have tangible confidential material that needs to be transferred to your office, for example, be sure to keep it in a locked drawer or safe beforehand. As for electronic data, you can send your documents using an encrypted file-sharing service such as pCloud, Enigmail, or LastPass. When the time comes to destroy important data, whatever you do, do not just toss it in the trash. Confidential information should always be shredded with a micro-cut shredder and it is advised to triple-check that data has been wiped using Department of Defense (DoD)-compliant software on your computer and/or hard drive rather than just sitting in a virtual trash can waiting to be recovered.
If you’re an employee working from home and are worried about private information that belongs to your company being leaked, simply follow the protocols that your employer has implemented. By pursuing your employer’s security practices as well as these tips, you can feel comfortable protecting your company’s confidential data as well as your own.
In the end, you have control over the information you share with others. You can protect yourself against online scammers exploiting the coronavirus pandemic for their own benefit by taking the time to look over any shared links prior to clicking on them, and avoid posting any important information in any public forums of any kind.