Nothing Creepier than a COVID Creep
Sometimes the hardest life lessons are the best, sadly enough. You wouldn’t think that a credit report left face down in your bedroom would lead to credit identify theft. But I’m here to say it happened to me, thanks to an unsupervised plumber that was looking for water leaks in my home. In my case, he discovered a credit leak! I had to lock down multiple credit accounts that remain frozen to this day.
And now in the age of COVID-19, social distancing and the like, there has never been a stronger need for identity theft protection. I hope to pass along a few tips that will help you avoid fraud, forgeries and counterfeit cashier’s checks.
More than 17,000 COVID-19 fraud complaints since January 1, 2020
It’s not as if fraudsters need an excuse to look for ways to steal from honest people. But a COVID-19 topic has become quite popular, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). It has become so popular that the FTC has a daily updated report detailing fraud complaints related to this virus. Read here.
In the 73 days between January 1 to April 13, 2020, the FTC reported 17,425 COVID-19 related fraud attempts. That’s almost 240 per day, with almost half resulting in a financial loss.
The list of fraud attempts and forgeries shows criminals preying on people’s fear of the virus and desire for a cure or to help a charity. This may include an herbal “cure” or remedy from a company you have never heard of before. Or it could be a travel scam offering “huge” discounts on travel after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.
Most recently, we’ve learned of new phishing scams targeting debit and credit card cardholders via unsolicited text and phone calls. Fraudsters are warning cardholders that their cards are blocked. After the cardholder responds to the message, the fraudster looks to “authenticate” the cardholder by asking for personally identifiable information (PII). Once this data has been obtained the fraudster may take further actions, including changing a PIN or using travel notifications. This is followed by fraudulent activity, often at ATMs.
The most desirable credit card to steal is one with loaded with airline or travel points, as the criminal can sell these cards for a premium on the black market.
Where to turn to help
Identity theft has become so commonplace, the FTC has a dedicated website to help you, called appropriately enough IdentityTheft.gov. There are all kinds of sneaky scams that can lure you into divulging personal credit and identity information. Here’s a list of some topics a criminal can use to get your information.
- Apartment or house rentals
- Bankruptcy filed in your name
- Checking accounts
- Child identity theft
- Counterfeit cashier’s check
- Government benefits (social security fraud is common)
- Investment accounts
- Medical identity theft
- Student loans or other debt relief
- Tax identity theft
- Utility accounts
My personal favorite is the counterfeit cashier’s checks. The scam goes like this. You get an unsolicited email or call that says they have a cashier’s check they would like to deposit in your account, but need you to forward on a small portion of the funds to an unknown third-party. You get the check, deposit it as if it’s real (it’s not) but send out real money as requested. Oops!
What to do in case of fraud
There are several important steps to take immediately, as listed on IdentityTheft.gov:
- Call the companies where the fraud occurred, tell them what happened, freeze the account and change logins, passwords and PINs for those accounts;
- Place a fraud alert with the credit bureaus (Experian,TransUnion, Equifax);
- Report the identity theft to the FTC; and
- Consider filing a report with your local police department.
Adding identify theft protection to your credit card is also something else to consider. But whatever the method or loss, all it takes is once before your eyes are opened to the damage that can be done through fraud. There have always been criminals. But I think the COVID crooks are the creepiest...