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HerMoney Healthline: Frank Abagnale on Coronavirus Scams And How To Avoid Them

Rebecca Cohen  |  March 27, 2020

We'll give you a hint: don't make any purchases from websites you don't know and don't trust.
This article is part of a new HerMoney Healthline series where we ask pros in a wide range of fields for their top tips on making it through the social and economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Browse past HerMoney Healthlines here. 

Frank Abagnale can spot a scam a mile away. That’s because he used to be the person doing the scamming. Abagnale, author of The New York Times’ Best-Selling book “Scam Me If You Can,” (Yes, Leonardo DiCaprio also played him in the movie “Catch Me If You Can.”), opened our eyes to the latest digital and phone scams when we first spoke in January. In our most recent conversation, he took a deep dive into the coronavirus, explaining the plentiful and very serious scams that people worldwide are falling victim to during this pandemic.

Unfortunately, the coronavirus has given crooks yet another avenue for trying to take our hard-earned money. Con artists across the world are leveraging Americans’ fear and vulnerability to con people into giving away their private information. (In other words, that email from an unknown address claiming to have truckloads of high-demand goods like toilet paper and Lysol wipes? Definitely too good to be true!) Our go-to source for tips on avoiding scams is here to keep all of us safe financially during the pandemic — as if we needed another thing to worry about.

Follow the headlines.

If you see a news story detailing the low stock of a certain item, like Lysol wipes or toilet paper, it’s probably true. So when you get an email the next day promising you a caseload of disinfectant wipes that can be delivered to your door, don’t hold your breath. “Be wary of any message prompting you to buy something that the world just ran out of, or promising there’s a cure on the other side of the screen,” Abagnale warns. The scammer will draw you in during a time of panic, right when you think that this is the only way you’ll ever be able to get toilet paper again, and instead of sending you the promised goods, they’ll steal your card information and charge up your bill.

Don’t click unfamiliar links.

“If you see a link that is unfamiliar to you, don’t click it. It can download malware onto your computer, which makes it easy for hackers to get in and steal your information,” says Abagnale. Many scammers have pieces of your information already, and only need one or two more data points to complete your puzzle. Clicking on the wrong link can give the scammer on the other side of the screen the one-way ticket they need into your personal computer where you likely store some of your most private information. “If you’re suspicious of a certain site, check the website URL against the AARP Fraud Network or the Better Business Bureau,” Abagnale adds. 

Don’t be too trusting of emails.

It is so easy to pretend you’re someone you’re not when you’re hiding behind a screen, which is what many scammers are doing right now to gain your trust. “Be suspicious of any emails claiming they are from the CDC or the government,” Abagnale says. “If the email address does not end in “.gov,” it’s not real.” Send that message to spam and block the sender so you don’t accidentally click on their links next time they try to trap you. 

Opt for a credit card payment.

“If you’re purchasing something online, always use your credit card. Don’t use a debit card, don’t send a check, and don’t ever give your bank account information away. It is much harder to get money back that way,” Abagnale suggests. If you do get scammed, a credit card company has a much easier time getting the funds back into your account since real money was not used to purchase that 50-pack of toilet paper. If you use a debit card or do a wire transfer, your actual dollars have already been passed along to the scammer which makes it difficult for your bank to refund your money. If you find you need to purchase from an unfamiliar website, always use a credit card, just in case. 

If you find you’ve been scammed…

Call your credit card company or bank right away. The sooner the better. That way, they can help in either stopping the payment or refunding you the money as soon as possible.

To hear Frank’s original HerMoney podcast, listen in here

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