Have you ever received a call from someone claiming to be from your bank asking for verification of your account, but the caller wouldn’t clearly state why that information was needed? Or have you received an email riddled with grammatical errors claiming to be from a streaming service offering you a free subscription if you just “click the link” to get it?
Phishing attacks—scams in which criminals use false pretenses to obtain sensitive information, such as passwords, account numbers or login credentials—are often perpetrated under the guise of well-known businesses. Other scams are more direct. Impersonating a trustworthy individual to solicit money remains a common trick. People with substantial assets, including retirees, are often the targets of these efforts.
With care and knowledge, however, you can avoid these types of fraud. In fact, now’s a good time to brush up on your scam-sensing skills. As we move toward the end of 2020, we’re about to enter what has traditionally been peak scam season. Phishing attacks are known to increase by up to 50% during holiday shopping season,1 and the coronavirus pandemic has created even more opportunities for scammers.
The good news is that traditional fraud-prevention wisdom still applies. Let’s look at how scam artists are attempting to obtain personal information—and at ways you can avoid giving them yours.
Coronavirus pandemic scams
Criminals are attempting to take advantage of current events by operating scams related to the coronavirus pandemic, which include selling access to vaccines, treatments or at-home test kits—none of which actually exist. Others are sending emails using names and logos of trusted sources like the World Health Organization to get people to download safety information—but only after they enter their email login credentials. Rather than reacting to a request or offer you haven’t solicited, search for the same information on the organization’s actual website.
Scams are also rampant on social media. You might see a Facebook message that appears to be from a trusted friend, sharing a “government” offer to provide older adults with grant money in exchange for staying home to help stop the spread of the virus, and the offer may include a link to click to learn more. As usual, you’ll want to avoid clicking on anything from an unverified source. Online sources such as snopes.com often have fact-checking pages devoted to helping people understand which of these sources are legitimate, and which are scams.
Some retirees have even been receiving fake Medicare phone calls asking for personal info. A “Medicare representative,” for example, might promise at-home testing—but to get it, you have to share your Social Security or Medicare number. Some of these types of calls can be very convincing, so if you’re unsure of their authenticity, you can always hang up and call the agency in question directly at its publicly listed number.