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COVID-19 Cybercrime On The Rise

04/23/2020
Ashleigh, K-Staff

Fraudsters have always preyed upon their victims’ emotions. Fear. Love. Worry. Desire to help. 

Emotions have never been higher than in recent weeks, and criminals and thieves are taking advantage of them, and you. According to the AARP, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) had received 23,581 consumer complaints related to the outbreak, including more than 12,000 fraud complaints (as of April 21). Victims have reported losses of $17.97 million, with a median loss of $553.



Here are some of the recent tactics cyber thieves are using and how you can spot them and avoid falling prey. 

The O-phish-al Officials
When we receive mail, e-mail or calls from agencies like the IRS, Social Security Administration or the U.S. government, we are naturally more inclined to pay attention and respond. Within days of the passage of the CARES Act, texts, e-mails and phone calls that appear to be from real businesses and government agencies began flooding in, offering to speed up the payments. Many of these calls, e-mails and text are purportedly from the IRS or other U.S. government agencies. Thieves often request banking or personal information in order to collect CARES Act funds quicker.

Some scams involve thieves posing as banks, credit unions and other financial institutions offering loans and other economic help. This includes debt forgiveness and student loan assistance. Other popular ruses involve unemployment benefits and job offers, again from what appears to be a legitimate government agency.

The Cure
This one capitalizes on one emotion in particular: fear. A disease that’s sweeping the world and bringing countries and their economies to their knees can induce outright terror. The offer of a cure, of a test, or some other treatment or detection can override one’s common sense when it comes to detecting fraud, especially if it appears to come from a well-known agency such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) or the World Health Organization (WHO).

No drug or treatment has been approved for COVID-19. But that doesn’t stop companies from touting one. The FTC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have sent more than 40 warnings to companies selling unapproved products they claim can cure or prevent COVID-19 and shut down a website that was promoting a nonexistent vaccine, according to the AARP. 

In addition, some scammers claim to be selling or offering in-demand supplies such as surgical masks, test kits and household cleaners, often in robocalls, texts or social media ads. The FTC has issued warnings to companies suspected of abetting coronavirus robocalls, and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) set up a dedicated website with information on COVID-19 phone scams. You can access that site here.

Fake Checks
Those much anticipated stimulus checks began dropping into some 80 million accounts in early April, but many citizens who haven’t provided direct deposit information to the IRS are eagerly watching their mailboxes for a paper check. To make sure the check you receive is THE official stimulus payment you’ve been waiting for, the Secret Service and the U.S. Treasury have provided six "Quick Tips/Genuine Security Features" that a person receiving, accepting, or cashing the economic impact payment check should look for:
  • There is a new Treasury seal to the right of the Statue of Liberty. The new seal should read "Bureau of the Fiscal Service" and it replaces the old seal that read "Financial Management Service (FMS)".
  • When moisture is applied to the black ink on the seal next to the Statue of Liberty, the ink will "run" and turn red.
  • All Treasury checks are printed on watermarked paper. The watermark reads "U.S. TREASURY" and can be seen from both front and back when held up to a light source.
  • An invisible to the naked eye "protective ultraviolet overprinting" (UV) pattern is on the paper check. It consists of lines of "FMS" bracketed on the left by the FMS seal and on the right by the U.S. Seal (eaglet. As of 2013, a new ultraviolet pattern was introduced into the check that says 'FISCALSERVICE.' Either one of these UV patterns may be seen.
  • The back of the check is micro printed with the words "USAUSAUSA".
  • Printed on the lower right side of the Statue of Liberty will be the following information "Economic Impact Payment President Donald J. Trump".
Anyone who believes they may have a counterfeit economic impact payment check is urged to contact local law enforcement, a Secret Service field office, or the Treasury.

How To Avoid Scams
  • Look out for the term “stimulus” in official government communication. It’s a buzzword used by the media and general public, but is unlikely to be included in official government correspondence. Speaking of official correspondence…
  • The U.S. government loves the snail mail when it comes to official communications. You can certainly reach them by phone or e-mail but for an initial conversation, you’ll have to be the one to reach out. A government agency will never text, e-mail or call you without you asking them to do so.
  • Beware of any request for information or money. This is particularly true when the request is not in response to any kind of communication from yourself. 
  • Don’t be afraid to confirm any request or communication from a financial institution. A bank you have a relationship with my e-mail, call or text you if you’ve given permission for them to do so. But you’ll never be asked for passwords, whole Social Security numbers, banking information, or for money. 
  • Don’t trust your caller ID to legitimize calls. It’s easy to spoof a real phone number to gain your trust before you even pick up the phone. 
  • Do not click any links in a text message. If a friend sends you a text with a suspicious link that seems out of character, call them to make sure they weren't hacked.
  • Always check on a charity (for example, by calling or looking at its actual website) before donating. (Learn more about charity scams.)
For more information about scam calls and texts, visit the FCC Consumer Help Center and the FCC Scam Glossary. You can also file a complaint about such scams at fcc.gov/complaints.

Learn more about what Kirtland FCU is doing in response to the COVID-19 threat.

 
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