As the pandemic continues, COVID scams continue to persist at extraordinarily high rates. In 2020, reports of identity theft in the U.S. skyrocketed to almost 1.4 million, double the number from 2019. Additionally, last year saw 2.18 million reports of fraud with impostor scams — where scammers pose as others in order to steal money and information from victims — weighing in as the common. This surge in scams reinforces the importance of staying educated and protecting your information so that you can avoid becoming a statistic.
“Pandemic scams aren’t going away any time soon,” says Chief Marketing Officer at Sontiq Donna M. Parent. “They are actually evolving as scammers find new ways to target individuals and families.” Sontiq laid out many of the main sources of COVID scams, and offered some key tips for avoiding them. Here’s a rundown.
COVID-19 Vaccine Scams
One of the most frequently occurring scams right now is related to coronavirus vaccines. Parent highlights that the FTC has received over $400 million of reported losses and upwards of 450,000 complaints.
“Individuals across the country report receiving emails and texts asking them to complete a limited time survey about their experience now that they’ve taken the Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson and Johnson, or AstraZeneca vaccine in exchange for a free reward,” she explains.
These surveys often rob people of their information, collect personal data, or install malware on your computer. Parent also notes that these emails may ask for your billing information in order to “pay you a reward.” If you think you may be the victim of a scam or have received an email like this, you can report it to the FTC via their website reportfraud.ftc.gov.
“When you do get the vaccine, don’t be tempted to post that vaccination card online,” Parent says. She explains that vaccine cards contain “medically sensitive information” that can be used to steal your identity or forge vaccine cards.
Unemployment and LinkedIn Scams
Parent also notes that unemployment and LinkedIn scams are on the rise, particularly since people are on the job hunt.
“Just two weeks ago, five hundred million LinkedIn accounts were leaked on the dark web giving scammers access to profiles they can use to commit even more fraud,” Parent says.
Scammers often make use of LinkedIn emails to draw people into a variety of different scams and give up their information, which makes it important to remain wary of emails you receive about job postings on the platform.
QR Code Scams
As QR codes have become more popular in order to access restaurant menus among other information in a touchless capacity, Parent also warns that these can often be used as ways to retrieve sensitive information. She cautions people to only use QR codes from trusted sources.
Eight rules for shutting down hackers
Parent provides us with eight rules to follow for “shutting down hackers.”
“If you actually suspect a COVID scam could be at play, watch for these warning signs. Don’t share your personal information and always monitor your accounts for unexpected or suspicious activity,” she says.
- Update your software. Older versions of programs aren’t up-to-date with the latest security protocols and can leave you vulnerable to attack.
- Change your passwords. Especially if you tend to use the same password for multiple accounts, they should be changed. At a certain point, it’s impossible to remember all your passwords, which is where a password manager can come in handy.
- Don’t save your credit card or other personal details on sites you frequently visit. Yes, it’s a pain to enter your information anew every time you make a purchase, but it’s an important step that can keep your information safe in the event of a hack.
- Be cautious of links. This includes links you may receive in an email, or links you find on social media. Make sure anything you click on is from a trusted, reputable source.
- Only use trusted wifi networks. When you need to send an urgent email or secure that final bid on eBay, it can be very very tempting to hop onto the closest wifi network, even if it’s unsecured. Don’t. These networks are where scammers can gain access to your personal information.
- Use two-factor authentication. Two-factor authentication is something you can set up for most any account you may have, including email and social media. (This is when you receive a secure code to a phone or email address in order to gain access to an account.)
- Limit personal sharing. We already went over how you shouldn’t share pictures of your vaccination card. Likewise you shouldn’t share details on your next vacation, the kind of credit card you use, the new house you just bought, or anything else that can give scammers the access they might need to steal your identity.
- Monitor your information. This means using a paid identity theft protection service, and/or requesting copies of your credit report regularly. If a problem arises, you want to be able to head it off and dispute it ASAP.
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