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Nevada State Bank: Five ways to sidestep coronavirus scams

Rick Thomas

Special to the NNBW

Rick Thomas, of Nevada State Bank.
Photo: Nevada State Bank
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article first published in the 2020 edition of Northern Nevada Smart Money, a specialty publication of the Northern Nevada Business Weekly that came out July 22. Go here to read the digital version.

The coronavirus not only threatens Americans’ physical health, but also provides a rich breeding ground for scams and fraud schemes. Many people become victims because these schemes play on a basic human emotion: fear, which can cause normally cautious individuals to let their guard down.

Many different scams are currently circulating. Like viruses, they often mutate to fit new circumstances. For instance, when stimulus checks started being sent out, new fraud schemes popped up almost immediately.

And as businesses scrambled to set up work-from-home arrangements, hackers and scammers rushed in to prey on unsuspecting companies and their remote employees.

It’s critical that businesses educate themselves and their employees about these new fraud risks. These five tips may help protect you and your team from becoming victims.

1. Watch out for phishing emails and texts.

Cyber criminals send out phishing emails and texts posing as legitimate organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) or World Health Organization (WHO). One version claims to link to “a list of coronavirus cases in your area.”

 Others appear to link to important information about how to prevent the disease. Cybercriminals have even targeted employees’ workplace email accounts.

One phishing email begins, “Due to the coronavirus outbreak, [company name] is instituting a Communicable Disease Management Policy,” and employees are told to download this attachment.

Links and attachments in these emails can contain malicious content that can infect your device and steal your information.

Avoid opening attachments and clicking on links within emails from senders you don’t recognize. Even if the sender looks familiar, take a moment to examine the sending address to make sure it’s legitimate. If in doubt, don’t click on anything.

2. Be wary of financial offers that require you to give out personal information.

Financial scams are becoming more common as people are affected by the economic impact of the virus. Criminals may call or email you, pretending to be from your bank, mortgage company or credit card provider, offering assistance with a short-term emergency loan, a plan to suspend your payments, etc.

You’ll be asked to provide personal information in order to apply, which they can use to steal your identity. If you receive such an offer, contact the organization directly, using a phone number or website you trust, and verify that the offer is legitimate.

3. Hang up on bogus phone calls.

Scammers use illegal robocalls to pitch everything from low-priced health insurance to work-at-home schemes. If you receive a recorded message like this, hang up quickly rather than entering any numbers.

Criminals impersonating IRS agents make aggressive and threatening phone calls year-round, but stimulus checks present a prime opportunity to strike.

Victims are told they owe money to the IRS, which must be paid promptly to avoid arrest, suspension of a Social Security number, or other threats. Callers may urge victims to pay this fake debt by endorsing their stimulus check and forwarding it to them for “payment of past debts.”

4. Be aware of stimulus check scams.

Emails purporting to be official communications from the IRS or other government agencies request Social Security numbers or other personal information in order to process a stimulus check.

People eager to receive their money may fall for this scam and open themselves up to identity theft. Individuals receiving paper checks instead of digital payments are at risk from thieves who raid mailboxes to collect checks.

Be sure to pick up your mail promptly, and then keep your check in a safe place until it can be deposited. 

5. Get information from reliable sources.

Rather than clicking on links in emails, texts, or social media sites, go directly to the source, such as coronavirus.gov or usa.gov/coronavirus, for the information you need. 

In short, stop and think before giving out any personal information, clicking on any links, or sending out any money during this crisis. While you’re taking precautions to help protect yourself from the virus, make sure to take precautions against scams as well.

Rick Thomas serves as Executive Vice President and Northern Nevada Executive for Nevada State Bank, leading a team that specializes in meeting the needs of businesses in the unique northern Nevada market. Go to nsbank.com to learn more.