Coronavirus Scams and How to Protect Yourself
As of April 21, 2020, the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) has received and reviewed more than 3,600 complaints related to COVID-19 scams, many of which operated from websites that advertised fake vaccines and cures, operated fraudulent charity drives, delivered malware, or hosted various other types of scams. Be aware of recent coronavirus scams and protect yourself against those who are trying to take advantage of the economic support bills, investments, and other financial services.
As stimulus checks are being disbursed, we want you to stay informed of fraudulent activity. The United State Treasury has implemented security measures directly on the physical check to prevent false information from being distributed. Learn about those security measures and more here.
On March 6, 2020, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) released an alert reminding individuals to remain vigilant for scams related to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). Cyber actors may send emails with malicious attachments or links to fraudulent websites to trick victims into revealing sensitive information or donating to fraudulent charities or causes. Exercise caution in handling any email with a COVID-19-related subject line, attachment, or hyperlink, and be wary of social media pleas, texts, or calls related to COVID-19.
CISA encourages individuals to remain vigilant and take the following precautions.
- Avoid clicking on links in unsolicited emails and be wary of email attachments.
- Use trusted sources—such as legitimate, government websites— for up-to-date, fact-based information about COVID-19.
- Do not reveal personal or financial information in email, and do not respond to email solicitations for this information.
- Verify a charity’s authenticity before making donations. Review the Federal Trade Commission’s page on Charity Scams for more information.
- Review CISA Insights on Risk Management for COVID-19 for more information.
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Homeowners in distress should be aware of these common scams:
Be aware of companies offering loan modifications, claiming you're approved or advise you to stop contact with your mortgage company. Unfortunately, many companies use half-truths and even outright lies to sell their services. They promise relief, but don't deliver. In fact, many of these companies leave their homeowner customers in worse financial shape. Scam artists will often charge you in advance for loan modification services. If you are facing foreclosure, investigate payment options with your mortgage company and do NOT sign your property away.
Scam artists urge homeowners to not pay their mortgage and offer them a deal too good to be true in order to get a loan modification. Only your mortgage company has the discretion to grant a loan modification. If you are having difficulty making mortgage payments, you should contact your mortgage company directly or contact a HUD-approved housing counselor at the Washington Homeownership Resource Center Hotline (877-894-4663) for help.
Now is also a time for investors to be wary of investment schemes promoting cures in connection with the current public health emergency, or other investment opportunities related to the economic downturn. Schemes may attempt to convince investors to liquidate their savings or sell their current holdings to purchase overvalued assets, assets that come with very high fees or assets of uncertain or questionable value, such as cryptocurrencies or precious metals.
Pension Advance Scams
The scam involves investors who provide funds to make cash advances to pensioners who are willing to turn over future pension payments in exchange for an immediate lump sum cash payment.
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Check Before You Invest
Consumers are encouraged to be informed and verify the licensing status of companies prior to transacting business. Washington consumers should contact the Department of Financial Institutions (DFI) to check on the licensing of companies offering loans, investments, or other financial services. This can be done by visiting the Licensee listing on the DFI website or calling the Department's toll-free office at 1-877-RING DFI (746-4334).
How to Protect Yourself:
- Before investing in any investment, ask questions about the risks and fees involved. Conduct your own independent research or seek the opinion of a financial professional who is registered with your local securities regulator.
- Never invest in something you don’t fully understand. Do not agree to participate in a general partnership or joint venture if you have no specific experience, knowledge or education in the type of business and would have to rely on others’ expertise.
- Beware of sales techniques that include repeated phone calls, cold calls, or high-pressure sales pitches hyping the profitability of the deal or promising a sure thing.
Do not be fooled by professional-looking websites boasting current productivity levels and profits and featuring photos of new production sites.
Consumers and investors can submit complaints to the DFI at https://dfi.wa.gov/file-complaint.
Here are tips to help you protect yourself from scams, including coronavirus scams:
- Don’t respond to texts, emails or calls about checks from the government. The details are still coming together.
- Ignore online offers for vaccinations and home test kits. There are no products proven to treat or prevent COVID-19 at this time.
- Hang up on robocalls. Scammers are using illegal robocalls to pitch everything from low-priced health insurance to work-at-home schemes.
- Watch for emails claiming to be from the CDC or WHO. Use sites like coronavirus.gov and usa.gov/coronavirus to get the latest information. Don’t click on links from sources you don’t know.
- Do your homework when it comes to charity donations. Never donate in cash, by gift card or by wiring money.
As a reminder, it makes a difference when you remain vigilant. If something sounds suspicious, question it. It's important that you remain diligent in reviewing your accounts daily and quickly reporting any unauthorized activity.
There is a lot that you can do to protect your own financial accounts and information in order to avoid compromising your own information.
To guard against phishing, don't click on links in emails or texts. Instead, go directly to apps and sites like the Wheatland Bank Mobile Banking app or wheatland.bank.