Since the onset of the pandemic, criminals have used tactics like identity theft and social engineering to defraud government and healthcare programs and illegally cash in—and the new year has brought some new material for them to keep up their scams.
COVID-19 vaccines. New PPP loans. Expanded government assistance. All are positive developments toward addressing the pandemic’s impact, but they also afford opportunities for criminals to fraudulently exploit.
The Threats Continue
On Dec. 21, federal agencies alerted the public regarding the high potential for fraud during the pandemic, especially now that a vaccine is available. Meanwhile, fraudsters are continuing their global phishing and spoofing campaigns, baiting victims with bogus promises of COVID-19 testing, grants, and prescription cards in exchange for personally identifiable information (PII).
“Given the impact COVID-19 has had on all of our lives, it’s no surprise that fraudsters are using it to target peoples’ money and sensitive information,” said Kathryn Albright, global payments and deposits executive with Umpqua Bank. “But if you know what kinds of red flags to be aware of right now, it can really help protect your business, and you personally, in the long-run.”
Beware of These Scams
• Recorded phone calls (“Robocalls”) offering the chance to avoid lines and get vaccinated sooner for a set price (e.g., $79.99).
• Advertisements and price gouging for the sale of fake or potentially dangerous (and unapproved, illegitimate) COVID-19 “medicine” or treatments.
• Solicitations, whether in person or via text, email, or phone, asking you to provide account information (financial or medical), click an unfamiliar or unexpected link, or visit an unfamiliar webpage to “sign up” for treatment.
• Bogus “contact tracers” who reach out to unsuspecting victims and ask for PII (e.g., Medicare number or financial information) or attempt to collect payment for scheduling a test. Legitimate contact tracers do not need such information or payment.
Tips to Note
According to the AARP, the key points federal officials want the public to understand when it comes to preventing such scams are:
• Go to a trusted source for vaccine information (e.g., your doctor or local health department).
• Do not buy a vaccine or treatment off the Internet.
• The vaccine is provided at no cost, although providers may charge a fee for administration (that can be reimbursed).
• Ignore any solicitations about the vaccine that are delivered to you via text message, social media, phone call, email, or in person, because health officials are not contacting eligible people using these methods.
• Do not give money or any type of PII to an unexpected or unfamiliar party contacting you about COVID-19, because fraudsters can use such information to defraud healthcare organizations and commit identity theft.
For additional information regarding the COVID-19 response and updated vaccine distribution details, visit trusted sites like CDC.gov and the FDA vaccine web page periodically—and exercise caution regarding unexpected or unfamiliar communications on the topic.
If You See Something, Say Something
“Fraudsters are adapting fast, and even the smallest amount of fraud can quickly become a scam epidemic,” said Albright. “Try to stay ahead of the fraud game and always keep a healthy skepticism; hyper-vigilance is necessary, even regarding an unexpected opportunity for COVID-19 treatment, as it’s often said, ’If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.’”