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Security

COVID-19 remains a popular target for attackers looking to trick users into clicking malicious links. 
 
6 Psychological Tricks Used By COVID-19 Scammers
 
“During this pandemic, we’ve seen malicious hackers preying on users’ biggest weak points by sending messages that instill fear, uncertainty and doubt,” said Stu Sjouwerman, CEO, KnowBe4. “Our Q3 report confirms that coronavirus-related subject lines have remained their most promising attack type, as pandemic conditions weaken judgment, and lead to potentially detrimental clicks.”

This Fall’s Top 10 Suspicious Work E-Mail Subjects:
  • Payroll Deduction Form
  • Please review the leave law requirements
  • Password Check Required Immediately
  • Required to read or complete: “COVID-19 Safety Policy”
  • COVID-19 Remote Work Policy Update
  • Vacation Policy Update
  • Scheduled Server Maintenance — No Internet Access
  • Your team shared “COVID 19 Amendment and Emergency leave pay policy” with you via OneDrive
  • Official Quarantine Notice
  • COVID-19: Return To Work Guidelines and Requirements

As is often the case with malicious emails, many of these emulate actual e-mails you may receive, but the key difference is that the legitimate e-mails won’t usually have the red flags everyone should always be on the lookout for:

Red Flags
  • Unsolicited Attachments and Links - E-mails containing unsolicited attachments or links—don’t open or click these!
  • Urgent Response - E-mails requesting urgent action regarding some previously unknown matter
  • Unusual E-Mail Address - The display name on an e-mail isn’t necessarily the e-mail address. So even if the sender appears to be “HR Department”, check the e-mail address. A scam address will likely not match exactly.
As with all scams, resist urgent calls to action to click links, send money, or enter any personal information. Verify any e-mail you receive directly with the purported sender. If you do click or enter any information based on a potentially fraudulent email you receive in a work inbox, inform your employer as soon as possible.




 
Kirtland FCU is an equal housing lender. Membership eligibility required. See a representative for complete details. Loan subject to credit approval. Financing available for New Mexico properties only. As with all lending services, full disclosures, terms, and conditions will be supplied with your mortgage or home equity disclosures.
 

Security Fraud


No, they aren’t.

So much of our lives are accessible on our computers and devices. For many older generations, that technology remains a somewhat of a mystery, making them particularly vulnerable to this scam. Tech support scams are extremely popular, and they hit older generations harder than any other type of scam, according to the FTC. Adults over the age of 60, who may be less tech savvy than younger generations, were five times more likely to be a victim of a tech scam in 2018, according to the FTC. In 2018, these scams cost Americans $55 million, and the median loss was $400. Those are numbers are just from reported cases of fraud; untold numbers may have been victims without realizing that the entire interaction was a sham.
 

How it works

The tech support scam begins with a pop-up in a browser or a direct contact via e-mail, text or phone call that informs the target of a problem with their computer or device, similar to the Apple Support scam. The problem is entirely fabricated, and the thief will, at best, attempt to get the target to pay money for the “repair” or for bogus warranties.

At worst, the thief will guide the victim to click links, turn over passwords, and information. Some even get the victim to provide remote desktop access in order to “troubleshoot” the imaginary issue. Once inside the victim’s computer, a thief can quietly install malware, spyware, or log into sensitive websites that have saved passwords. Kevin Mitchell, Security and Fraud Specialist at Kirtland FCU says this scam is common.
 

“It happens every day. Multiple times a day. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve just gotten off the phone, trying to help someone who ran into this scam,”

Mitchell says scammers routinely use fear as a tactic. Bright flashing boxes proclaiming that your phone or computer will soon stop working certainly inspire worry, and many will click as a result.

 

How to protect yourself

Tech support scams work because technology can be confusing, and we’re quick to rely on experts to assist us when we feel out of our depth. To protect yourself from tech scammers, remember:
  • Tech support companies will NEVER reach out to you unsolicited. If you’re having an issue with your computer, your phone, or any other piece of technology, call or visit a reputable merchant or service company to discuss the problem and arrange repair. If you haven’t requested a call, feel free to hang up.
  • Don’t click on pop-ups. Those little boxes that pop up on an internet browser that alert you to a problem are a classic form of this scam. Don’t click and close your browser as a precaution.
  • Don’t believe a logo or the caller ID. Many scammers attempt to impersonate legitimate companies. Just because the caller ID says Apple or the e-mail appears to be from Best Buy doesn’t mean it’s a real communication. Content is key. Is the caller claiming to be able to solve a problem you haven’t detected? Are they asking for money or access to your computer? It’s probably a scam.  
  • Protect your passwords. No tech support company will ever request you provide a password. And don’t turn over access to your computer! If you initiated a service call, tech support may request remote access to help you solve a problem, but you should NEVER grant computer access to anyone you haven’t contacted yourself and trust thoroughly. The best idea is to take your computer in for in-person repairs if you’re having a problem.
  • Beware requests for payment or information. Don’t ever enter credit card information or authorize any type of payment for tech support. Repairs will cost you money, but legitimate companies will provide an estimate for the repair before beginning work and charge you upon completion.
  • Don’t let fear guide you. A sense of urgency is key to this scam succeeding. The more pressed you feel to act, the less likely you’ll make a wise decision. If a caller or a pop up is threatening or urging action, take a breath. Think. And click away or hang up!
Mitchell recalls a story of a woman who had given remote access of her computer over to a scammer. The thief used her saved passwords to break into her Online Banking and start moving money around.
 

“Please don’t save your passwords on your browser,” he urges. “It’s much safer to enter them each time, as much trouble as that can seem. It’s dangerous to leave them out there.”


If you think you may have become a victim of this scam, the best course of action is to immediately disconnect your computer from the internet by shutting off WiFi or unplugging the ethernet cord, says Mitchell. Then, take your computer to a legitimate repair facility to have it checked out and reset if necessary.

Make sure you notify any credit union, financial institution, credit card company, or other business that you may have had access to through your computer. Changing your passwords is a good idea as well.

The tech scam is very common, so always be on the lookout.
 

Security Fraud

This article was original published in February 2020.

Puerto Rico. California. Florida. Australia.

What do all these places have in common? They’ve all experienced a disaster or event that prompted an outpouring of donations and an influx of charity involvement in the recovery efforts. In the age of coronavirus, need is all around us. Closures have resulted in record unemployment, failed business, and unprecedented challenges in every corner of the country and the globe. Charities that have traditionally relied on annual walks and other fundraising events are facing a crisis, rapidly attempting to bring their fundraising efforts online—digital giving is the name of the game in 2020.

And there’s no question as to the willingness of people to give. In 2017, Hurricane Harvey became the second-costliest storm on record in the United States, causing an estimated $125 billion in damages. In the three months following the storm, at least $1.07 billion is estimated to have been donated to U.S. nonprofit organizations in response, according to a study by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and the Center for Disaster Philanthropy. More than 30 percent of U.S. households made a disaster-related donation in 2017 through a variety of sources.


Image from U.S. Household Disaster Giving Report, Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and the Center for Disaster Philanthropy. https://www.issuelab.org/resources/34757/34757.pdf





Hurricane Harvey relief workers hand out supplies. Photo courtesy of michelmond / Shutterstock.com

Give directly to reputable organizations
Well-established organizations are the most experienced in working with disaster relief and After a disaster, donations tend to explode. In fact, most donations are made in the first six weeks following a disaster and have all but tapered off six months later. The first few weeks after a disaster, especially one with high-profile news coverage, are prime season for fraudsters who capitalize on the disaster and peoples’ desire to make a difference by posing as a charity organization.

In August of 2019, as Hurricane Dorian approached the shores of Florida, the BBB Wise Giving Alliance and the Better Business Bureau offered advice on how to make the most of your donation in the face of a disaster and how to spot a fraudulent attempt to divert donations.  They often have strong local ties and will know how to work together with other agencies as well as governments.

Watch for look-alike charities
It’s not uncommon for organizations to pop up in an attempt to collect a portion of a massive volume of donations being made in the wake of a disaster. Many fraudulent organizations will create names that are similar to legitimate organizations. And even new, legitimate charities may be well-intentioned but not well-positioned to help immediately. Check with Give.org for a list of credible charities assisting with recovery efforts or with the IRS’ Tax-Exempt Organization Search to make sure you’re dealing with a legitimate organization.

Understand crowdfunding
The explosion of online crowdfunding—the collecting of money for a project or venture by raising many small amounts of money from a large number of people—has made it very easy for fraudsters to cash in after a disaster. If you’re going to donate via a crowdfund, it’s best to makes sure you know the owner personally. The person running the crowdfunding campaign isn’t necessarily the person who you want your money ending up with, and you’re trusting that they’ll follow through on their promises.
 
Beware direct requests for money
If you’re contacted by someone you don’t know on social media or via e-mail in a direct request for donation funds, you should hear alarm bells in your mind. Legitimate organizations that you aren’t already affiliated with will likely not reach out to you directly to request help. Be even more concerned if that person is requesting gift cards or P2P payments (Apple Pay, Paypal, etc.) Likewise, do not click on links in unsolicited e-mails requesting donations. DO NOT give out personal financial information to anyone who solicits a contribution.

Do not send cash
A cash donation is a bad idea. Leave a paper trail for tax and security purposes by using a check or credit card to make a donation. If something goes wrong, you have avenues you can follow with your card company and documentation of the amount and where it was supposed to go. Checks have to be cashed somewhere. When you hand over cash or gift cards, the trail ends—and if you’ve given your donation to a fraudster, you have no path for recourse.

Report suspected fraud
If you receive an e-mail requesting donations and suspect it may be fraudulent, report it to the IRS.

These types of scams are not limited to disasters or charities: scammers often impersonate political organizations as well, purportedly seeking donations for a candidate or a cause.
We know the desire to help is nearly overwhelming in the days and months following a disaster. And with coronavirus pandemic causing a record need for charitable assistance, opportunities to help abound. By being aware of the dos and don’ts of donation, you’ll be able to avoid fraudsters and make sure your donation provides the maximum amount of relief in the right hands.

 

Security Fraud

Six months in, the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States has devastated the economy with business closures resulting in lost jobs for a record number of people. In fact, as of the end of July, a staggering 28.2 million people claimed unemployment benefits. Last year, 1.6 million people claimed unemployment in the same time period.
 
For those who have been affected, unemployment benefits are lifeline. Indeed, through the federal CARES Act as well as various state efforts, unemployment benefits have received a boost in recent months. But the exponential increase in unemployment claims, coupled with several state and federal actions design to make applying for unemployment easier, has resulted in an explosion of fraudulent unemployment claims.
 
How this scam works
The Unemployment Usurper uses stolen personally identifying information—a Social Security number, birth date, name, address, etc.—to fraudulently apply for and receive unemployment benefits in the name of the victim. The incidence of this scam has increased so quickly that the FBI and the Federal Trade Commission have both recently issued warnings to be on alert for this scam.
 
The imposter may obtain personal information through a variety of methods—data breaches, phishing e-mails and phone calls, public websites, social media accounts, and physical theft of data. Often, the criminal will file the claim under the false identity and set up payments to drop into an account they themselves control.
 
Victims only learn about the fraud when applying to receive their unemployment benefits, when they receive a notice from their state unemployment benefits office or their employer if currently employed. Red flags that you’ve been targeted in this scam include:
 
  • Communication regarding unemployment insurance forms when you have not applied for benefits
  • Unauthorized transactions on your bank or credit card statements related to unemployment benefits
  • Fees involved with filing or qualifying for insurance
  • Unsolicited inquiries related to unemployment benefits
  • Fictitious website and social media pages mimicking those of government agencies.
 
If you are alerted to this activity and you haven’t applied for benefits, it’s likely your information has been stolen and employed in this scam. The benefits may be long gone, but you will need to move quickly to protect your finances and credit from further impacts.
 
  1. Report the fraud to your employer
  2. Report the fraud to your state unemployment benefits agency (click here for New Mexico’s Department of Workforce Solutions).
  3. Report the fraud to the FTC.
 
How to avoid this scam
They key to avoiding becoming a victim of this scam is to stay in control of your personal information as much as possible. Familiarize yourself with the various methods scammers use to obtain your data so you can be on the lookout.
 
  • Be wary of calls, messages, e-mails, letters, and website that ask you to provide your personal information or financial data—especially birth dates and Social Security numbers. Watch for links in e-mails as well. Just because a website looks legitimate doesn’t mean it is. When in doubt, start a new session in your browser and type the website name in directly
  •  Monitor your accounts. Enroll in Online Banking to keep a 24/7 eye on your accounts and set up alerts to notify you of unusual withdrawals and activity.
  • Go paperless. Mailbox theft is common. Keep your statements and other information out of the hands of criminals by opting into electronic statements wherever possible.
  • Check your credit report. You can do this for free once a year at AnnualCreditReport.com.
  • Report unusual activity to your financial institutions, credit card providers, and the IRS. You should also consider notifying the FBI of fraudulent or suspicious activities through the Internet Crime Complaint Center.
 

Security Fraud

We’ve all been at home for decades months now. It’s become apparent to many of us that something is just missing at home. What an amazing time to get a pet! Everyone is at home, we can train and look after our new pet! It’s a great distraction and a perfect time to grow our family.
 
It makes sense that with COVID-19 comes skyrocketing incidents of this scam—a threefold increase from this time last year. It’s the Puppy Scam.
 
The BBB received 1,681 reports of pet scams in the past few months, up from 583 for the same period last year. Overall, pet scams comprise 25% of online scams reported to BBB’s Scam Tracker. During the same period last year, it was 18%. The typical dollar amount lost to pet scams also rose from $655 last year to $700 this year, one of the highest for all categories. The percentage of people who reported losing money inched up from 68% last year to 70% this year.
 
It's a costly scam, and one that pulls at the heartstrings.
 

How it works

According to the American Kennel Club, puppy scammers post fake litters online or pretend to be someone they’re not (usually an existing breeder) to take advantage of puppy sales (sans the puppies.) This means that if you aren’t careful, you could find the perfect puppy, send the ‘breeder’ your money, and never receive a puppy or any follow-up communication in return.
While many times these fake listings appear on websites like Craigslist, some scammers find ways to position themselves as reputable breeders by stealing personal info from them.
 
BBB did an earlier study that found that these types of frauds depend on bogus, often sophisticated advertisements to hook unsuspecting consumers. Experts believed, at that time, that at least 80% of the sponsored advertising links that appear in an internet search for pets may be fraudulent.
 
Victims were often told that they needed to send money for special climate-controlled crates, insurance and a (non-existent) COVID-19 vaccine. There also were several instances where the consumers wanted to see or pick-up the animal but were told that wasn't possible due to COVID-19 restrictions.
 
A classic report comes from the BBB: one woman reported losing more than $1,100 to two different puppy scammers in April 2020. She said the first seller agreed to sell her a pug puppy for $500, including shipping, and had her pay with a prepaid gift card he instructed her to buy at Walmart. The woman told BBB the seller subsequently notified her that COVID-19 had delayed shipment of the puppy and would not issue her a refund; she tracked the gift card and found that it had already been spent at a Target store in Texas.
 
The woman said she subsequently made contact with another seller who agreed to sell her a pug puppy for $620, including shipping. She said after she paid half the fee, a third-party shipper contacted her and demanded $750 for a climate-controlled crate; when he offered to split that fee with her, she sent him $300. The seller and shipper subsequently both turned out to be fraudulent, and the woman did not receive refunds or either puppy.
 
“This seller absolutely played on my emotions and vulnerability,” the woman told BBB. “I'm a highly educated person, but I've never felt so stupid in my entire life.”
 

How to stay safe

If you’re considering purchasing a pet, the following are best practices to keep yourself safe from a puppy scammer.
 
See the pet in person before purchasing
Reluctance to have you meet the animal should be a red flag. And when it comes to photos, scammers will often use stock images or photos off the internet when advertising for their scheme. They’ll also repeat their posts in several different places, so do a quick Google search using the text in the listing. If you’re finding the same text on a different site with different photos, that’s a warning sign.
 
Beware sketchy payment methods
If a seller is asking for money wires or gift cards, you should be on the lookout for a scam. Paying by credit card is your best option because it gives you recourse in case a deal doesn’t work out. If you pay with a gift card, wire money, or use a personal transfer service like Venmo, there is no way to retrieve your payment.
 
Research the price
These scams often advertise full-breed animals at an unbelievably low rate. Research the prices of the breed you’re considering to see what the typical price is. If the listing says the animal is registered, check out that registration before turning over any money
 
Beware extras
Scammers often try to charge money for transportation or other extra perks along the way. Be on the lookout for these.
 
Consider adopting rather than purchasing
Animal shelters nationwide are full of wonderful dogs and cats waiting for forever homes. Whether you adopt from a city shelter or one of the many rescue organizations, you have many options for getting a four-legged friend that won’t put your money in jeopardy. Fees are nominal and usually cover vaccinations, microchipping, and other costs associated with adopting out an animal.
 
If you think you have been scammed or have found a suspicious website, report it to BBB Scam Tracker and the Federal Trade Commission.
 
Get started on your puppy search safely!
 
Animal Humane New Mexico
ASPCA
Watermelon Mountain Ranch
Rio Rancho Animal Resource Center
Albuquerque Animal Welfare
 

COVID-19 Security Fraud

Scam artists will stop at nothing to exploit the fear, social isolation and uncertainty fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic. “People are more vulnerable emotionally than ever,” says psychologist Stacey Wood, a professor at Scripps College in California. “That makes it easier to fall for the increasing number of scams out there."

Criminals are preying on this new vulnerability with everything from fake work-at-home jobs and fraudulent charities to money-seeking romance schemers lurking on dating sites. Other scammers include government impostors who are targeting your stimulus check. How do they do it? Here are six psychological tactics scammers don't want you to know about.

A friendly voice
Before the coronavirus, 1 in 4 older adults were socially isolated; today that number is far higher. “When you're lonely, a friendly voice on the phone or a friendly message on social media seems like a real bright spot,” says Emily Allen, senior vice president for programs at AARP Foundation. Scammers use information they've gleaned about you online to strengthen the bond. They shower you with compliments and get you to like them in order to make you more willing to believe their lies.

Official-sounding sources
“In uncertain times, we rely more than ever on what other people tell us. Scammers may falsely identify themselves as being from the IRS or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” says Robert Cialdini, regents emeritus professor of psychology and marketing at Arizona State University. “They misquote or make up advice from experts. And they create fake organizations that sound impressive, to fool you.”

Using your intelligence against you
"Some people get drawn in when scammers compliment their intelligence and ability to understand a so-called opportunity,” Cialdini says. “Others think they're smarter than a scammer and can spot a phony. Research shows that, among older adults, those who think they're the most invulnerable to persuasion are most likely to fall for scam artists."

Helping in hard times
Schemes involving fake charities, online romantic partners in need and grandchildren marooned away from home without cash are nothing new. But they're heating up as people yearn for ways to help others and as job losses and travel restrictions make scammers’ stories sound more believable than ever, Wood says.

Relieving your new anxieties
Job loss, stock market tumbles, scary virus risks — scammers are manipulating your fears in these uncertain times with too-good-to-be-true “opportunities” like fake work-at-home offers, bogus investment schemes and phony chances to buy face masks, hand sanitizer, coronavirus tests and fake remedies.

You gotta act now!
Goading you to either make a fast decision or miss out on scarce supplies or a new job plays on today's anxieties, Wood says. “When you're fearful or stressed, you're more likely to make impulsive decisions,” she says. “Scammers know this.”

So how can you stay safe from these tactics?

4 Ways to Stop a Scam Before It Starts
  1. Cut them off. Toss, delete or hang up on unsolicited offers. Don't answer the phone if you don't recognize the caller ID. Don't click on links or provide personal info requested in an email.
  2. End suspicious online friendships. This is not the time to trust strangers, no matter how nice they seem. In fact, scammers are professionals at being “nice.” Put on your toughest filters and cut off contact the moment someone you don't know well asks for info or financial help.
  3. Cultivate your real friendships. Be in frequent touch with family, friends and neighbors who can be sounding boards on unusual offers. Visit connect2affect.org to assess how much social isolation and distancing are affecting your mental and physical health, AARP's Allen says.
  4. Do your homework. If someone claims they're from the IRS or your bank, call to verify. Learn more about popular coronavirus scams now.

COVID-19 Security Fraud

“Grandma, it’s John. I need help.”

“John? Are you ok? You sound funny.”

I’m in the hospital, Grandma. I need you to send me some money so I can pay my bills because they won’t let me go.”

“What? Your mom didn’t mention that to me!”

“Please don’t tell her, I don’t want her to worry. I’m okay, I just really need money to pay the hospital bills.”

Grandchildren hold a special place in the hearts of their grandparents. That affection, combined with the higher percentage of financial resources and trust that are hallmarks of this generation, is making grandparents a juicy target for scammers amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In this fake scenario above, you can see the trademarks of the classic Grandparent Scam. A claim to be a grandchild or other family member OR a claim to be a bail bondsman, attorney, or some other law enforcement agent calling in regards to a family member. A plea for help, or a threat. A request or demand to not involve others in the family. And a scenario that may or may not be tied to the coronavirus epidemic.

Criminals continue to employ the Grandparent Scam for a simple reason: it works. And in the midst of the pandemic, reports of this particular threat are increasing. According to an AARP report, in New Jersey and New York alone, roughly 100 victims have lost about $1 million in recent months.

Here’s a look at the number of such cases reported to the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Sentinel Network. Cases totalled 91,585 from the beginning of 2015 through March 31 of this year.

Since 2015, some 91,585 people have been victims of impostor scammers who purport to be family members or friends, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says.

"In these days of coronavirus concerns, their lies can be particularly compelling,” FTC attorney Lisa Weintraub Schifferle warns. “They pull at your heartstrings so they can trick you into sending money before you realize it's a scam,” she says.

And requests, at least in busy cities like New York, are not always for a digital delivery of money. In fact, the FBI has arrested scammers who send a taxi cab or even come to the victims home to pick up the money, acting as a go-between for the grandparent and their “grandchild”.

Knowing the names of family members or referring to family vacations or other events is NOT proof of validity. In the age of social media, it’s scary easy for a criminal to gain access to that sort of information.

Amy Nofziger, who directs AARP's Fraud Watch Network helpline (877-908-3360), likewise reports an increase in grandparent scam complaints as people isolate at home. Nofziger says the scams exact a financial and emotional toll on people; some have even lost their life savings.

"We're all very emotional during these COVID-related times, and these criminals want to prey on your emotions,” she says. “And nothing is more emotional than thinking that someone you love is in trouble and needs your help."

Even victims’ grandchildren — while blameless — may feel aftershocks of guilt and remorse, “so it’s really something that affects the whole family,” Nofziger says.

How to stop a grandparent scam
And if you get a scam call, report it to local police, to the FBI's Internet Complaint Center and to the FTC.

Here’s advice from the FBI and other authorities on how to thwart a grandparent’s scam.
  • Use privacy controls on Facebook and other social media platforms to limit what strangers can learn about you and your family.
  • When you suspect that someone who calls, texts or emails you is a scammer, take a breath. Slow it down. Contact the family member who purportedly is in trouble and needs cash. Such calls may come late at night and the background may be noisy, adding to confusion. Never act in haste.
  • If you suspect a scam, tell the caller directly: “I am not participating in this discussion.” Consider writing that down on a piece of paper and keeping it near your telephone.
  • If the caller purports to be a bail bondsman, ask where your relative is being held and contact the facility directly. Or call your local police department, where officers may be able to call the jail and check out the story.
  • Resist the urge to act immediately — no matter how dramatic the story is.
  • Verify the caller’s identity. Ask questions that a stranger couldn’t  possibly answer. Check the story out with someone else in your family or circle of friends, even if you’ve been told to keep it a secret.
  • Don’t send cash, gift cards or money transfers — once the scammer gets them, they’re gone.
“We want to warn as many people as possible so that they might thwart the nefarious efforts of these schemers,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Gregory W. Ehrie. “Awareness is a victim’s best defense. Don’t allow criminals to separate you from your hard earned savings. Call, verify, report.”

If you receive this type of call, remain calm and resist the pressure to act quickly. Get as much information as possible, including the phone number, if possible, of the caller. Hang up and call a family member to verify the information or call a trusted friend to ask for help. Report the call to your local police department or the FBI. Never wire money, especially overseas, based on a request made over the phone or in an email. Once you send it, you can’t get it back.

For more information, read the FTC’s guidance on Family Emergency Scams.

And if you get a scam call, report it to local police, to the FBI’s Internet Complaint Center and to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.

COVID-19 Security Fraud

When a crisis hits, it’s important to stay on top of your finances as best you can and monitor your credit.

Due to the hardship caused by COVID-19, all U.S. consumers can get free weekly online credit reports now through April 20, 2021, from TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax by visiting annualcreditreport.com.

As the coronavirus outbreak continues to evolve, your credit might be the last thing on your mind. During times of emergencies though, such as global pandemics or natural disasters, you should know the state of your finances and keep your credit on your radar. Along with your physical health being a top priority, so should the state of your financial health and wellness.

Normally, your credit report is available every 12 months from all three credit bureaus—TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax. Given the vast number of consumers’ financial health being impacted by the current economic conditions, online access to your report is now available on a weekly basis. Visit annualcreditreport.com and follow the prompts.

Remember your credit report and credit score are two different things, and your report will not include your credit score.
  • A credit report is a statement of your credit activity and current credit situation. It includes a history of your loan payments and status of credit accounts.
  • A credit score is calculated from your credit history and behavior—information found in your credit report.
There are four main ways you can acquire your score, including checking your credit card or other loan statements, talking to a non-profit certified credit counselor, using a credit score service (be sure you know what you are signing up for and how much it really costs!), or buying a score directly from one of the three credit bureaus—TransUnion, Experian, or Equifax.

There are additional ways you can be proactive with your credit. Follow these steps to help keep your credit on solid footing.
  1. Pay your bills on time, if you can. Even if it gets difficult, try to make at least the minimum payment by their due date. Late payments negatively affect your credit score.
  2. Contact your creditors and service providers. If you get to a point where you can’t pay all your bills, contact your creditors and any service providers such as utilities, phone company, etc.
  3. Check your credit regularly. Now is a critical time to make sure your credit reports are accurate. If you identify potential fraud, you can respond before it damages your credit.
  4. Be extra protective of your identity. Unfortunately, during times of crisis, scams and identity theft are at an all-time high. Protecting your personal information is essential. You can place a free security freeze on your credit files which prevents people (good AND bad) from accessing your personal information and using your name to apply for credit.
  5. Get financial assistance, if needed. Certified credit counselors can offer advice on how to repay your debts in a manageable way.
  6. Dispute inaccurate information. If you find inaccurate information when reviewing your credit report, you can file a dispute with each credit bureau. Each bureau has an online dispute center, which is the quickest way to file a dispute.
How to Order Your Credit Report
Don’t contact the credit reporting agencies individually. The free reports are available only through annualcreditreport.com and 1-877-322-8228.

You’ll need to provide your name, address, social security number, and date of birth. If you’ve moved in the last two years, you may need to provide your previous address. For security purposes and to verify your identity, you may be asked for information only you would know, like your monthly mortgage payment.

Beware of “Imposter” Websites
The only website authorized to fill orders for the free annual credit report you are legally entitled to is annualcreditreport.com. Other sites that claim to offer “free credit report” or “free credit monitoring” aren’t part of the legally mandated free annual credit report program and in some cases have strings attached to the “free” product being advertised.

Report Scams
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) works for you—the consumer—to prevent fraud and unfair business practices in the marketplace. If you think you’ve been the victim of a scam, you can file a complaint with the FTC and/or the Attorney General of your state.
 

Security Fraud

2020 is the year of the big 10-year U.S. census, a count of every person in the United States. The 10-year census, as well as the smaller and lesser known annual American Community Surveys, are an essential tool for states and local municipalities, as well as the federal government, to properly budget and allocate resources. 

The surveys ask some pretty unusual questions—such as what time you leave for work—and as such tend to spark more than a few phone calls from citizens concerned about fraud. Because of these unusual questions and the blanket method with which information is collected during the 10-year census, it can be difficult to tell the difference between a legitimate census communication and a fraudster’s attempt at capitalizing on the survey to steal your information.

Census-based fraud can happen year-round and may come in the form of fraudulent mailings, phone calls, e-mails, texts and even in-person visits. 
  
RED FLAGS:
  • You receive an e-mail communication. Like many government agencies, you’ll almost always receive official communication via regular mail.
  • You’re asked for bank information, Social Security numbers, passwords or password hints (such as mother’s maiden name). A real census worker will never as for this information
  • You’re threatened by a census worker or communication. Taking part in the census is required by law, and you can be fined, but not imprisoned, for refusing to do so.
If you experience any one of these, you may be looking at a scam.
  
HOW TO KEEP YOURSELF SAFE
 
DO DON'T
Verify that a census taker who comes to your home is legitimate. They should have a Census Bureau photo ID badge (with a Department of Commerce watermark and an expiration date) and a copy of the letter the bureau sent you. You can also search for an agent’s name in the Census Bureau’s online staff directory. Don’t give your Social Security number, mother’s maiden name, or bank or credit card numbers to someone claiming to be from the Census Bureau. Genuine Census representatives will not ask for this information.
Do confirm that a questionnaire you’ve received is on the Census Bureau’s official list of household or business surveys. Don’t reply, click links or open attachments in a suspicious census e-mail. Forward the message to ois.fraud.reporting@census.gov.
Do contact the bureau’s National Processing Center or the regional office for your state to verify that an American Community Survey or other census communication is genuine. Don’t trust caller ID — scammers can use “spoofing” tools to make it appear they’re calling from a real Census Bureau number. Call the National Processing Center at 800-523-3205, 800-642-0469 or 800-877-8339 (TDD/TTY) to verify that a phone survey is legitimate.
Do check that a census mailing has a return address of Jeffersonville, Ind., the site of the National Processing Center. If it’s from somewhere else, it’s not from the Census Bureau.  
Do check the URL of any supposed Census website. Make sure it has a census.gov domain and is encrypted — look for https:// or a lock symbol in the browser window.  

You can report suspected scams to the regional Census Bureau office serving your state and to the Federal Trade Commission (online or at 877-382-4357).



 

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