Scam alert: Covid-19 related fraud is proliferating


young woman at home with a phone and a credit card in her hand

In early April, we noted that there has never been a crisis or emergency that criminals won’t try to exploit and we posted a roundup of fraud schemes: Be on your guard for coronavirus scammers, skimmers & phishers! It’s time to update that list. Criminals are only getting smarter and more sophisticated about capitalizing on our coronavirus fears and the way we’ve adjusted our lives. Here are reports on some of the newer scams that authorities are seeing, along with tips on how to avoid being victimized.

Here are some of the common scams that the Department of Justice warns about:

  • Antibody testing fraud scheme
  • Unsolicited healthcare fraud schemes
  • Cryptocurrency fraud schemes including blackmail attempts, work from home scams, paying for non-existent treatments or equipment, or investment scams.
  • Calls and e-mails from imposters claiming to be IRS and Treasury employees
  • Robocall scams selling PPE, face masks, or other medical devices
  • “Free” COVID-19 tests if you supply Medicare information
  • Fake charities seeking donations or your bank / credit card info.
  • Imposter calls promising CARES Act stimulus payments or demanding refunds for a supposed over payment
  • Fake websites and apps claiming to be associated with CARES Act programs.

FBI Says Increased Use of Mobile Banking Apps Could Lead to Exploitation
Studies of US financial data indicate a 50% surge in mobile banking since the beginning of 2020. Additionally, studies show that 36% of Americans plan to use mobile tools to conduct banking activities, and 20% plan to visit branch locations less often. The FBI warns the public to be aware of fake banking apps and to be cautious about downloading apps on mobile devices that might contain banking-related malware. The FBI recommends only obtaining smartphone apps from trusted sources like official app stores or directly from bank websites. They also advise using Two-Factor Authentication and using strong passwords and good security.

FBI Sees Rise in Online Shopping Scam
The FBI reports an increasing number of people are ordering goods online from fraudulent vendors and the goods are never relieved. Victims are being directed to fraudulent websites from ads on social media platforms and popular online search engines that offer lower than usual pricing on such items as gym equipment, small appliances, tools and furniture. Many of the websites used content and contact information copied from legitimate sites and posed as US companies. Here are some fraud indicators. Instead of .com, the fraudulent websites used the Internet site domain extensions of .club and .top. Most of the site URLs (addresses) were purchased in the last 6-months.

The FBI offers these tips to avoid being victimized

  • Do your homework on the retailer to ensure it is legitimate.
  • Check the Whois Public Internet Directory for the retailer’s domain registration information.
  • Conduct a business inquiry of the online retailer at the Better Business Bureau.
  • Check other websites regarding the company for reviews and complaints.
  • Check the contact details of the website on the “Contact Us” page, specifically the address, email, and phone number, to confirm whether the retailer is legitimate.
  • Be wary of online retailers offering goods at significantly discounted prices.
  • Be wary of online retailers who use a free email service instead of a company email address.
  • Don’t judge a company by their website; flashy websites can be set up and taken down quickly.

Monitoring and reporting fraud schemes

Check out the FBI Coronavirus website periodically for updated fraud scheme reports. If you think you are a victim of a scam or attempted fraud involving COVID-19, you can report it without leaving your home by calling the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721 or submit the NCDF Web Complaint Form.

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Quick best practice tip for your 2020 financial and legal documents


young woman signing a financial document with two other people watching

It’s a new year – time to get in the habit of changing the year that you use when you write a quick check or date documents. But there’s another habit you should alter this year, according to police and other crime experts: write out the full year of 2020 in your handwritten dated documents, not just the abbreviated ’20. Failing to write the full year of 2020 might open you to costly fraud.

While it’s common to date documents in this format – 1/7/20 – the unique nature of this year’s date makes it too easy for a fraudster to change the year by simply adding more digits on the end. So your check or contract dated 1/7/20 could easily be altered to backdate it to 1/7/2019 or date it into the future as 1/7/2021.

Elizabeth Whitman of Whitman Legal Solutions talks about this in her article Will Abbreviating 2020 on Legal Documents Make You Vulnerable to Fraud?

She talks about why someone might do this, using an example of vintage violins with label changes that made the instruments older and consequently more valuable than they were. While labeling fraud on vintage musical instruments may not be something you have to worry about, she offers examples of why it might be worth your attention:

“Those who warn against abbreviating 2020 theorize that a scammer could backdate a document, such as a promissory note, to 2019. After that, the scammer could try to collect an extra year’s interest on the loan.

Commentators express similar concerns about postdating–that someone could change the date to try to cash a stale check. Or, they could try to force performance of an expired contract by make it appear that the contract was signed later than it was.”

Some say this fear might be overblown, that in prior years scammers might have altered dates on any two-digit year — but that just reinforces the importance of using a 4-digit year on written legal and financial documents – why take the risk? Whitman notes that while a consumer may be able to ultimately prove the fraud, that might entail an expenditure of time and money. Whitman says that although the risk of using an abbreviated date might be minimal, “it also doesn’t hurt to use the full year in a document signed in 2020–or in any other year.”

Her article also offers an handy list of document signature best practices, such as using a digital signature when possible, signing in blue ink, maintaining time-stamped paper copies and using dated cover letters – read more about these suggestions in her post.

Forged, altered or fake paperwork is a real thing – see our prior post on title washing scams that occur in used car purchases – a crime that costs $30 billion a year! Thieves and scammers are very creative in separating you from your money – a small step like using a 4-digit year in financial and legal documents that would make their job harder seems worth it.

Car thieves are just driving away with our cars for the darndest reason!


We’ve all misplaced our car keys at one point or another, but are people getting more forgetful?

That would appear to be the case if we review the recent report that the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) issued on car thefts. Thieves are driving away with our cars because we are making it too easy for them by leaving our keys and fobs right in the vehicles!

While car thefts in general are on a downward trend, the numbers of cars stolen due to keys in the car are on the rise. And it’s not just a slight uptick – there’s been a 56% increase since 2015 and an 88% increase since 2013!  Every single day last year, an average of more than 200 cars were stolen due to keys in the car. You can learn more in the NICB press release on thefts of vehicles with keys, along with the short video and infographic, below.

NICB keys-in-cars theft report infographic

Sometimes the keys or fobs left in the car are not due to forgetfulness – thefts spike in the winter when there are more cars being warmed up in cold weather. Beyond that, NICB doesn’t speculate as to why. It may be because they are quieter. We previously talked about how quieter, keyless cars are related to an increase in carbon monoxide deaths. Beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess: Too much trust in anti-theft and theft-recovery systems? An aging population of drivers? Distracted by our phones as we are powering off our cars? Hard to know.

To prevent this happening, NICB advises drivers to:

  • Lock the vehicle, set the alarm and take all keys or FOBS.
  • Do not leave the garage door opener in the vehicle.
  • Take a picture of your registration on your cell phone and do not leave the registration or other papers with personal information in the vehicle.
  • Never leave a car unlocked and running to warm it up or while stopping for a quick cup of coffee. It only takes a moment for the opportunistic thief to jump inside and drive off.

Home burglars reveal the tricks of the trade


home burglary - thief looking in door window

How do home burglars choose a home to rob? What makes it easier or harder for them to break into a home? What can homeowners do to ensure their home is not a target? To learn the answers to these questions, Portland Oregon KGW TV’s investigative team sent letters to inmates currently serving time for burglary in the Oregon Department of Corrections. Inmates were surveyed anonymously about how they broke in, when the crime occurred and what they were looking for. See: We asked 86 burglars how they broke into homes

Here’s an eye-opening video as a KGW reporter rides around a neighborhood with a former home burglar who talks about how he cased homes and commit robberies.

The linked article above is also worth reading. When asked “What is the one thing homeowners can do to avoid being burglarized?”: “Burglars suggest homeowners make their property visible with good lighting and trimmed bushes and trees. You should get to know your neighbors and alert police if you see anything suspicious.”

  • “In my opinion, I think homeowners should always leave a TV or radio on,” said one inmate.
  • “Get a camera and make it visible!” wrote another.
  • “Put bars on your windows and doors, get an alarm, keep an extra car in the driveway, keep lights, TVs and radios on when you leave your home,” read one questionnaire.
  • “Home alarm, know your neighbor so they can report suspicious people around the neighborhood,” said a burglar.

More secrets from robbers

For another brief video and tips from burglars see How do you prevent a burglary? Convicted thieves tell all – KSL in Salt Lake City.

We previously featured a post on Burglar Secrets: Expert advice on how to protect your home.. While links to the original article we cited are no longer operational, we excerpted several tips in the post. Among them,  mistakes that burglars said people often make:

  • Bragging about valuables, new purchases
  • Leaving doors and windows unlocked or garage doors open
  • Failing to enable security systems
  • Leaving valuables visible through windows
  • Leaving valuable things like bikes and riding mowers laying about in the yard
  • Having uncovered windows that allow views into the home

Talk to your insurance agent

Your home insurance company might also have good information about keeping your home safe. And if you have home security systems, you may earn a discount on your insurance policy – talk this over with your independent insurance agent.

Online purchase scams top the BBB list of 2017 consumer fraud


Mouse trap with dollars to depict online scams

Online purchase scams are now the riskiest form of consumer fraud, according to a new fraud report from the Better Business Bureau, jumping from #4 in 2016 to #1 in 2017. BBB says that online scams were most frequently related to pets, clothing, cosmetics, electronics, and automobiles. Free trials involving cosmetics or nutritional products were also common.

BBB’s top 10 scams of 2017 were:

1. Online purchase scam (up from #4 in 2016)
2. Investment scam (up from #6 in 2016)
3. Employment scam (no change)
4. Advance fee loan scam (up from #5 in 2016)
5. Fake check scam (down from #2 in 2016)
6. Home improvement scam (down from #1 in 2016)
7. Tech support scam (up from #8 in 2016)
8. Travel/vacation scam (new to top 10, #12 in 2016)
9. Family/friend emergency scam (no change)
10. Government grant scam (new to top 10, #11 in 2016)

This BBB chart shows the most common means of scammer contact. (See more charts from the report.)

One bit of good news is that although the number of reported incidents increased, the percentage of consumers who actually lost money fell from 18.8% to 15.8%, so maybe users are getting smarter about scams. One other interesting observation in the report is that young people are more susceptible to scams than older folks, but although susceptibility decreases with age, the dollar cost of the scam goes up with age.

To avoid scams, be on high alert for unconsolidated emails and phone calls. Some common tactics to trick you include:

• Deals that are too good to be true
• High pressure tactics
• Urgency – you must decide now; offer is expiring; etc.
• Threats or intimidation – you”re under investigation, you will be arrested if you don’t act now
• Isolation – trying to force a decision before you talk it over with someone else

To learn more about any of the top 10 scams of 2017, download a full copy of the 2017 BBB Scam Tracker Annual Risk Report: New Trends in Scam Risk. Also, follow BBB’s scam tips to stay up-to-date on emerging threats.