A recent college graduate, Bo heads for graduate school in the fall. Until then, he’s working virtually, from home, as an intern for a campus-based organization. His job is to help freshmen navigate college life in a new COVID-19 world via videoconferencing apps and technology.
By spending more time online – and on his phone – he’s discovering he’s also a bigger target for scams in recent weeks.
In back-to-back days, he received a text allegedly from his cellphone provider and an email from a debt collector about his auto loan. Both stated he was behind on his payments and needed to resolve the issue immediately. “I’ll be honest, I was nervous. But I also knew it was easy to check out,” he said. “I called my dad, and he said both accounts were up-to-date.”
Another scam was aimed at his father: He received an email that appeared to be from a friend in the legal field that stated the friend needed urgent help paying someone online and included a promise to repay with a check if money could be wired. While the sender’s email address was legit, a quick phone call verified the friend had been hacked.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, scammers are combining new technology with old tricks to get people to send money or provide pertinent personal information. Here are some suggestions culled from the FTC to stay safe:
- Look for impostors. Scammers pose as trusted sources – reputable companies, government officials, even family or friends – requesting payments. Verify. Make sure the contact is coming from someone legitimate.
- Be a detective. If a company makes an odd request, search online with the company name and then a keyword like “review” or “scam.” You can also search the phone number for previous scams.
- Don’t pay up front for a promise of riches. A legitimate sweepstakes won’t call or email you asking you to pay taxes or a fee before receiving your winnings. And legitimate offers to pay off debt or provide mortgage assistance don’t come from out-of-the-blue phone calls.
- Hang up on robocalls. Report suspicious, recorded sales pitches to the FTC. They’re often illegal, and the products are often bogus.
- Don’t deposit a check and wire money back. That’s not how normal business is done. And if you unwittingly deposit a fake check, it can leave your own account in disarray.
- Sign up for free alerts from the FTC at https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/scam-alerts and get the latest information in your inbox.
“We encourage you to stay vigilant,” said Jeff Taylor, head of Commercial Fraud Forensics for Regions. “After all, you are your own best defense against cyber and phone scams, and just a few steps can keep you and your finances safe.”
Taylor said a common-sense approach includes:
- Take precautions with links or attachments in unsolicited emails, and ensure their legitimacy before clicking on them.
- Access trusted sources such as legitimate government websites like www.cisa.gov/coronavirus or www.coronavirus.gov for up-to-date, fact-based information about COVID-19.
- Verify the authenticity of a company website or a request for information by contacting the company directly. Do not use contact information connected to the request. Instead, check your previous records and statements for contact information, and call a number known to you.
- Do not reveal personal or financial information in an email or phone call.
- Install and maintain anti-virus software, firewalls and email filters to reduce potentially fraudulent traffic and protect your systems.
- Take advantage of any anti-phishing features offered by your email provider and web browser, as well as identity protection on your cellphone.
As appropriate, monitor the online activity of family members and have frank discussions about the associated risks.