Be on your guard for coronavirus scammers, skimmers & phishers!


coronavirus scam alert

There’s never been a crisis that cyber criminals won’t try to exploit — rest assured, they are out in full force during the coronavirus crisis. Their goal is to capitalize on your fears and anxieties to steal your money and your credentials. They hope that you will be distracted and that your guard may be lowered. We offer a roundup of just a few of the scams that we’ve been hearing about, along with resources that offer security and protection tips.

Phone scams
The Federal Communications Commission alerts us that phone and text message scammers are out in full force to take advantage of the coronavirus crisis to prey on consumers and they discuss common ploys and talk about how to protect yourself in COVID-19 Consumer Warnings and Safety Tips.

Common scams include offering free home testing kits, promoting bogus cures, selling health insurance, and preying on virus-related fears. They also prey on financial fears offering bogus debt consolidation services and work from home schemes. They tout fake charities. Scammers often impersonate government agencies.

One particular issue to be aware of:

Many consumers will receive checks as part of the federal government response to the coronavirus. No one will call or text you to verify your personal information or bank account details in order to “release” the funds. The Treasury Department expects most people to receive their payments via direct-deposit information that the department has on file from prior tax filings.

The FCC offers the following tips to help you protect yourself from scams, including coronavirus scams:

  • Do not respond to calls or texts from unknown numbers, or any others that appear suspicious.
  • Never share your personal or financial information via email, text messages, or over the phone.
  • Be cautious if you’re being pressured to share any information or make a payment immediately.
  • Scammers often spoof phone numbers to trick you into answering or responding. Remember that government agencies will never call you to ask for personal information or money.
  • Do not click any links in a text message. If a friend sends you a text with a suspicious link that seems out of character, call them to make sure they weren’t hacked.
  • Always check on a charity (for example, by calling or looking at its actual website) before donating.

Coronavirus Phishing Scams
Consumer Reports  talks about phishing scams that pitch COVID-19 health information and fake cures. They say that:

Many of the emails, which often appear to be sent by WHO or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pretend to offer new information about the virus.

Some hint at the availability of a vaccine, and others claim to be from charitable organizations looking to raise money for victims.

Although the ploys are “depressingly familiar” to those well-versed in phishing emails, they come at a time when people worldwide are particularly vulnerable, says Eric Howes, principal lab researcher for KnowBe4, a cybersecurity company focused on phishing prevention.

“When people are distracted, concerned, and extremely motivated to get information,” he says, “you can’t count on them to notice things they might have in calmer times.”

Their post shows how the phishing scams work and offers a list of tips from digital security experts on how to avoid getting scammed.

Consumer Reports also offers other coronavirus-related alerts:

Online shopping safety: protect against skimmers
Malwarebytes offers tips for safe online shopping post COVID-19. They talk about various problems online shoppers should be on alert for, from raised prices and price gouging to counterfeit goods. They remind shoppers to use only trusted sites and to visit those sites directly rather than through links found in emails or on web pages, which could be phishing attempts. They offer this pro tip: Bookmark favorite URLs to save on manually typing. By saving the URL rather than searching for a shop name, you are less likely to be fooled by impersonators.

They call out one threat many shoppers may be unaware of and most people wouldn’t spot – online shopping cart skimmers:

Ever since shelter-in-place orders have sent millions of shoppers online, the Malwarebytes threat intelligence team has noticed an uptick in the amount of digital credit card skimmers, also known as web skimmers. Web skimmers are placed on shopping cart pages and collect the payment data that customers enter when they purchase an item online.

Cybercriminals can hack the websites of legitimate brands to insert web skimmers, so avoiding resellers or little-known boutiques won’t protect shoppers from web skimmers. Instead, consider using an antivirus with web protection or browser extensions that block malicious content.

To help prevent such exploits, make sure you have good antivirus and anti-malware protection and keep it up to date.

Working from Home
The Better Business Bureau says that as more people work from homes, IT and security companies are noting an increase in hacking/phishing attempts. They offer 10 Tips to Stay Cyber Secure When Working Remotely. We also found this great advice. concrete advice from insurer HSB to be very helpful: Seven Ways in Seven Days to Boost Cybersecurity While Working Remotely. They talk about each step in more detail, but here’s a summary of steps they suggest/

Day 1: Unsubscribe to unsolicited email
Day 2: Get on the “Do Not Call” List
Day 3: Block unwanted callers
Day 4: Try a password manager
Day 5: Employ multi-factor authentication
Day 6: Confirm that operating systems have the latest update installed
Day 7: Confirm and update subscription(s) to anti-virus and anti-malware software

Summer vacation safety: Avoiding travel fraud & scams


You may be on vacation, but rest assured, scammers never sleep – they are hard at work thinking of new ways to separate you from your money and your identity. Consumer Reports features an article on Summer Scams to avoid – a few of these are about travel: .

  • Vacation rental scams – you book a cute cottage via the web that requires advance payment. Except the cottage doesn’t exist. Remedy: stick to established online rental vendors.
  • Discounted hotel stays. Fraudent websites can look real and make bogus offers. Remedy: Watch out for third party sites selling hotels or other goods and services at a discount. Use reputable services and be sure to dig around on a site to make sure it is the real thing before you take out your credit card.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC)  talks more about vacation rental listing scams, common signs of a scam, and how to avoid being bilked. They also have an excellent
resource with travel tips designed to help you avoid scams during the travel planning and shopping process.

If you are traveling internationally, you could become an inadvertent victim of a common scam around International Driver’s license. This FTC tip sheet talks about what International Driving Permits are and what they aren’t. It says, “AAA and AATA are the only organizations authorized by the U.S. Department of State to issue IDPs to U.S. residents. Both AAA and AATA charge less than $20 for an IDP. If you’re asked to pay more, consider it a rip-off.”

Rick Steves has certainly done his share of international travel over nearly five decades as a travel expert and author. He offers a great collection of common Tourist Scams and Rip-Offs. For another good resources, see this guide to other Common Travel Scams and How to Avoid Them.

Summer is a great time for travel but all too often, when in a new or relaxing place, it can be easy to lower your guard. When you’re in an unfamiliar place, it’s more important that ever to be alert and maintain high situational awareness. If something seems too good to be true, it almost always is.

See more posts on common scams and frauds
And if you are going on vacation, here are 5 steps to secure your home while you are away!

Scam-apalooza! Don’t let fraud ruin your holiday


ruined-holidayThe CT commissioner of insurance warns policyholders of a recent insurance phone scam. People are getting calls that their insurance is cancelled and they need to make a credit card payment to reinstate their policy. The commissioner says: Never give out your credit card information to an unsolicited caller.

Good advice – particularly over the holiday. Scams are plentiful in the holiday season so keep your radar set on high. We’ve heard about fake shipping notifications, pyramid schemes, gift card scams, fake charities and plain old package theft. Don’t let scammers ruin your holiday – learn about the most common holiday fraud schemes.

General Alerts

Gift Card Scams

Package Theft

Delivery Scams

Charity Scams

Santa Scams

Holiday Pyramid Schemes

Holiday job Scams

General shopping & holiday safety

Scam alert: The IRS won’t phone you to make threats


phone-scammer

Police are warning residents in West Springfield about phone scammers pretending to be IRS agents. Actually, this scam is happening throughout the country – and it’s likely to continue because the IRS says that thieves have conned more than $5 million from victims already.

Here’s how it works: You get a call from an alleged agent who tells you that you owe back taxes. These are pretty sophisticated scammers – they may spoof the IRS toll-free number on caller ID to make it appear that it’s the IRS calling. They may even know the last 4 digits of your Social Security number. The caller threatens to jail you, send police, deport you, seize property or freeze accounts if you don’t take immediate action. The callers are said to be very aggressive and threatening and make repeat calls. After they hang up, they may have other people call you to pretend they are local police or other officials who “corroborate” the scam.

Another variation is to tell you they owe you money and they need details of your bank account to send it to you. There’s always a “you need to act immediately” aspect to the scam.

One North Carolina couple describes how the scam that bilked them out of $16,000 went: they withdrew money from the bank and bought a prepaid credit card and read the number to the fake agent over the phone.

Who are the most susceptible victims? The elderly. Immigrants worried about deportation. People who actually do owe money and are worried about it. But anyone, really. Most of us think we are too smart to be scammed but even smart people can be fooled by master criminals who know how to expertly prey on our trust, our fears or our greed.

If you have elderly parents or neighbors, you may want to alert them to this scam!

Here’s what the IRS says:
The IRS has issued repeated warnings but have issued another recent phone scam warning due to the volume of the calls happening around the country.

There are clear warning signs about these scams, which continue at high levels throughout the nation,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “Taxpayers should remember their first contact with the IRS will not be a call from out of the blue, but through official correspondence sent through the mail. A big red flag for these scams are angry, threatening calls from people who say they are from the IRS and urging immediate payment. This is not how we operate. People should hang up immediately and contact TIGTA or the IRS.”

Additionally, it is important for taxpayers to know that the IRS:

  • Never asks for credit card, debit card or prepaid card information over the telephone.
  • Never insists that taxpayers use a specific payment method to pay tax obligations
  • Never requests immediate payment over the telephone and will not take enforcement action immediately following a phone conversation. Taxpayers usually receive prior notification of IRS enforcement action involving IRS tax liens or levies.

Fraud Watch: Staged Auto Accidents


In cooperation with the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) has produced new high definition videos showing some of the most common methods of staging motor vehicle accidents to defraud insurance companies.

According to NICB: “Staged traffic accidents are on the rise, endangering the lives and boosting the car insurance rates of innocent drivers who may unwittingly think they’re at fault. Staged accidents are most common in “no-fault” states such as Florida and New York, where the insured stager can collect for bodily injury from their own car insurance company through their personal injury protection, or PIP, coverage.”

“Staged accidents are usually conducted by organized groups that target drivers and vehicles that are likely to be insured. The organizers frequently recruit participants who receive a cash payment to join in the scheme and to claim they were injured in the crash. The organizers then have the medical providers who are in on the scheme bill the auto insurance companies for medical treatments that may be unnecessary and which may or may not be completed.”