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Coronavirus crisis creates scam potential

As the world hits pause on social gatherings, school days and much more in the wake of the coronavirus, it’s important that consumers watch for those who want to take advantage through misinformation and fraud.

As you practice social distancing to protect the health of yourself and others, there are ways you can protect your identity. It’s a good idea to share fraud protection measures with the elderly or others at risk of becoming victims of fraud.

Who to trust

The Federal Trade Commission, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Internal Revenue Service and Centers for Disease Control, in addition to local health commissions and government agencies, should be your primary sources of information during this time.

Scammers have already been creating and sending malicious messages with links designed for identity theft. It’s important to verify someone you trust is sending you the message before you click. Some messages may seem legitimate, but they are actually spoofing a company’s email address.

What to look out for

Don’t fall for “click here for a cure” emails or text messages. Remember that the CDC or World Health Organization will not send an email to your personal or work account. If you receive an email from an “expert,” do not click links or download attached files. Any “click here to download this file” is likely malware or a virus just waiting to infect your device.

Be wary of scammers asking for donations for someone’s medical care. When in doubt, never wire money, donate by sending a gift card or be rushed into giving. Use reputable giving sites, if possible, verify the facts of the person’s story by searching their name or the charity’s name along with the “complaint,” “review,” “rating,” or “scam.”

Watch for tax scams offering refunds now. Instead, follow updates from the IRS about extended deadlines and tax relief.

You may see advertisements begin to appear on your social media feeds about COVID-19 cures and vaccines. Even if someone shares a link about a medical breakthrough, it’s unwise to click the story as it may lead to a harmful website. Instead, follow updates from the CDC’s coronavirus coverage.

The SEC has also seen social media ads and other online promotions recruiting people to buy stock in a company that’s making a vaccine or cure. The agency warns against this type of investment frauds. Often called a “pump and dump,” a scammer will spread rumors about a company’s stock to drive up the price. As the initial hype fades, the scammer quickly “dumps” their stock while the investor loses their money as the stock drops or the company comes under investigation.

As the situation surrounding the coronavirus continues to evolve, it’s important to stay vigilant about the possibility of scams and attempts cybercriminals might use to take advantage of unsuspecting victims.