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COVID-19 Scams: What to Look for and How to Protect Yourself

May 26, 2020
COVID-19 scams are on the rise. Using both fear and financial incentives to convince users to respond, these scams run the gamut, from impersonating various government agencies to soliciting donations to pretending to have information about government stimulus payments. “Phishing” scams are particularly concerning. Using a combination of phone calls, emails, bogus websites, and text messages, these scams typically enable cybercriminals to take control of your computer, log your keystrokes, or access sensitive personal information and financial data.

Coronavirus-related phishing emails can take on a variety of different forms. Cybercriminals, for example, have sent phishing emails designed to look like they are from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, falsely claiming to link to a list of coronavirus cases in your area. Phishers have sent emails that offer purported medical advice to help protect you against coronavirus. Scammers have even targeted employees’ workplace email accounts, claiming to provide updated company policies with respect to coronavirus.

To protect yourself from phishing scams – particularly at a time when so many of us already feel vulnerable due to the COVID-19 scare – it is essential to learn about the methods cybercriminals use and the signs that indicate you may be a potential victim.

Here are some key things you can do to help protect yourself from these scams:


Keep Personal Information Private

Never give out personal information by phone, text or email. Financial institutions and other legitimate organizations will never request your username, password, credit card number or PIN, social security number, or other credentials by phone, text or email unless you contacted them, and in many cases they won’t even ask for it then.


Use Strong Passwords and Don’t Share Them with Anyone

Create strong passwords, change them periodically and don’t share them with anyone.  Strong passwords usually consist of a combination of upper- and lower-case letters, numbers and special characters. You can also use short phrases. Always log off when you’re done instead of just closing the page, especially if you’re using a public or shared computer.


Use Caution with Email Links, Attachments and Forms

Never use links in an email to connect to a website unless you are sure they are authentic. Instead, open your browser and type the URL directly into the address bar. If you receive an email from a friend with just a link, be wary, inspect it, and ask your friend what the intent was before agreeing to click on the link. You can inspect a link by hovering your mouse over the URL without clicking, to see where it leads. While it can sometimes be obvious that the web address is not legitimate, phishers are good at creating links that closely resemble legitimate addresses, so always err on the side of caution.

Treat email attachments with caution. Email attachments are commonly used by scammers to sneak a virus onto your computer. These viruses can help the scammer to steal important information from your computer, even if you don’t provide that information directly. And never submit confidential information via forms embedded within email messages. Senders are often able to track and capture any information that is entered.


Monitor Your Accounts and Report Suspicious Activity

Utilize online or mobile banking to review transactions regularly and set up alerts, if possible, to notify you of certain account activity. If you are not registered for online or mobile banking, make sure to review your monthly account statement(s) and report any unauthorized transactions to your financial institution immediately.


Do Your Research

Learn more about Coronavirus scams and how to protect yourself by visiting ftc.gov/coronavirus or fbi.gov/coronavirus. Consumer alerts for these types of scams are continuing to be discovered regularly so check back often for updates.

Your security is important, particularly in these uncertain times. The best line of defense is to educate yourself, be vigilant and be extremely cautious about sharing personal information, so that you can avoid becoming a victim of these often very convincing scams.

See more tips in our Security Center.