The COVID-19 pandemic has not come without its side effects (both in the metaphorical and physical sense), one of those being a new angle on an old nuisance: scams. Scams often take the form of a phone call, link, or email faking urgency about an issue that likely matters to you. They might advertise a rebate on your electric bill, pretend to be your bank calling about a suspicious transaction, or your healthcare provider calling to obtain important personal information. No matter the tactic, scammers are looking to attack you in a vulnerable moment to capture your identity.  

The newest scams are feeding off the fear caused by COVID-19 to capture your personal information, whether that be your social security number, credit card information, or even your Medicare number. So, what do they look like? 

  1. Emails, robocalls, and text messages offering free face masks. 
  2. Social media posts about free COVID-19 testing kits, cures, and protective equipment. 
  3. Checks sent to you in the mail from a “research” company for being a shopper at common pharmacy locations (CVS, Walmart, etc.). 
  4. Phone calls and emails offering to expedite or increase the amount of a stimulus check payment. 
  5. Small business websites offering assistance with the PPP Economic Injury Disaster Loan processes that are not SBA.gov 

How do you identify them? 

A general rule of thumb with scams is that if a stranger is offering you something that seems to be too good to be true, it probably is. A few things to keep in mind when getting a suspicious phone call or email: 

  • Someone calling to offer you a service in exchange for your personal information is a red flag. 
  • Medicare, your bank, and your healthcare providers will never call you to sell you anything in exchange for your information. 
  • Institutions that have access to high-security personal information will not contact you for this information unless you have given them permission in advance. 
  • Your service providers will not solicit you at your home. 
  • Legitimate providers will never call you to enroll you in their services unless you called first.  
  • Always verify that the email address matches the sender’s name that appears in your inbox. 
  • Never click on a link or follow through on a request sent to you via email unless you are familiar with the sender. Take precautions when sending secure information. 

What happens if you do get caught on a suspicious phone call or receive a suspicious email? 

  1. Hang up immediately or delete the email from your inbox. Many email providers allow you to block a sender and mark the email as spam.  
  2. Review your personal statements such as bank statements and Medicare claims. Ensure you recognize each of these transactions and billings. Medicare claims and Medicare Summary notices for services billed to your Medicare Number you don’t recognize. 
  3. Report any suspicious behavior. Medicare Fraud can be reported to 1-800-MEDICARE. Call your bank for suspicious bank account activity and to cancel a credit card if you suspect information has been stolen. Identify theft should be reported to the Federal Trade Commission online at IdentityTheft.gov or by phone at 1-877-438-4338. 

Scams can be tricky to spot until it is too late. The key to not falling into scams is to stay alert so your emotions don’t get the best of you. Staying on your toes will help recognize the warning signs of fraud and notice any suspicious behavior on your accounts.  

If you have any further questions about recent scam trends, or have other questions about how COVID-19 is impacting your finances, schedule a free consultation with Justin Porter, CPA, CFP®, J.D. 

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