While more and more Americans are getting laid off because of the coronavirus crisis, fraudsters are working overtime to con you out of your money and your identity, reports the Association of Mature Americans.
Earlier this week AMAC’s National Spokesman, Robert Charles, issued a warning for seniors to be on alert for cybercrooks out to rob us at a time when we feel vulnerable. It’s a warning we should all heed and for which we should all be prepared, says Rebecca Weber, the Association’s CEO.
“It’s bad enough that our lives have been upended as a result of the pandemic. Don’t let scammers use the disease as a way to rob you, access your credit cards and sell you snake oil,” says Weber.
She notes that, as Charles cautioned, the authorities have been sounding the alarm since the outbreak of the coronavirus in the U.S. And, a report from the Federal Trade Commission shows a particularly worrying “surge” in the number of consumer fraud complaints with a disproportionate percentage of those complaints coming from individuals over 50 years of age.
“Isolation and uncertainty can trigger a need to ‘keep current’ about the deadly virus and your computer is the easiest way to get the news for which you are searching. But be aware that the bad guys are using the epidemic and computer technology to pick your pocket or worse, to steal your identity,” Weber cautions.
The FBI, in fact, has issued a warning to take measures that can protect you when you go online: “do your research before clicking on links purporting to provide information on the virus; donating to a charity online or through social media; contributing to a crowdfunding campaign; purchasing products online; or giving up your personal information in order to supposedly receive money or other benefits.”
But, Weber points out, the bad guys are not just on the Internet.
Robocallers are having a field day as well during the crisis. The Washington Post reported recently that “As the coronavirus pandemic exploded across the country, so did robocalls: American consumers were bombarded with more than 132 million automated calls a day in March according to YouMail, which offers an app that blocks unwanted telecom intrusions.”
Both the Internet fraudsters and the phone scammers are peddling everything from fake self-testing kits to phony medicines and hard to get medical products such as face masks.
It’s easy enough to deal with the robocallers; just hang up on them or block them from calling. Your smartphone provider can help you find an effective call blocking app.
And then there are the person-to-person pandemic scams. For example, be wary of door-to-door salesmen offering protective devices and access to testing.
“These old school scammers can come up with seemingly ingenious methods of getting their victims to part with their money,” according to Weber.
“Recently, it was reported that conmen in Johannesburg came up with a rip-off that gives new meaning to the term ‘money laundering.’ The crooks knocked on doors claiming to be from the South African Reserve Bank. They used fake credentials and told residents they were collecting coronavirus contaminated banknotes and coins. They even gave their victims vouchers that could be exchanged for ‘clean money’.”
Dealing with such physical threats is also easy; don’t answer the knock at your door and if the hustler is persistent call the police.
The bigger peril during these times is that your personal information might be compromised? The experts say if you believe it’s happened to you, report it as soon as possible to the Federal Trade Commission [FTC], the police and the IRS. You should also report it to your banks and other financial institutions where you have accounts.
It’s also a good idea to do a thorough check of your credit reports. Look for new, unauthorized activity. Opening new accounts is also recommended as is signing up for credit monitoring and changing all of your Internet passwords, replacing them with new, stronger passwords.
You may also want to “freeze” your credit reports and those of other family members. While freezing your credit will prevent you from opening any new financial accounts, it will also prevent hackers from opening fraudulent accounts using your name. You can always lift the freeze on a temporary or permanent basis. It’s easy to do as explained by the FTC on its Website [https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0497-credit-freeze-faqs]. In a nutshell, it simply requires you to request that the three major credit reporting agencies place a freeze on your credit report. Once you feel comfortable that your credit report is protected you can simply request that the agencies lift the freeze.
You can contact the agencies by phone or via their Websites, says Weber. Equifax: 800-685-1111 Equifax.com/personal/credit-report-services, Experian: 888-397-3742 Experian.com/help and Transunion 888-909-8872 TransUnion.com/credit-help.