Rather than address a specific scam in this month’s tip, I wanted to step back and look at the bigger picture of scams during Covid-19. In my fiction writing, a confluence of events drives my stories, and this scam tip is no different. Two events happened this past week that caused me to think about how to maintain online security and avoid scams in the age of Covid-19.
Isolation is tough on decision making
We often think of networking as something that gets done at work. Jobseekers network to find a new job. Writers network to find an agent or publisher. But there are other types of networking that are even more important. It’s basically all about our ability to make good decisions.
I recently received a question from a reader about how to recover money after she’d fallen for a scam in which she’d significantly overpaid for a product. I referred her to the Better Business Bureau and suggested she contact her credit card company to dispute the charges.
Within a day of that message, Joel Sauer at Charles Schwab put on a podcast in which he talked about the need for online security during Covid-19. The podcast struck a chord with me because my reader had ordered the product for her son-in-law, and her mistake reminded me of the tips I’d just read about.
Staying in touch with family and friends is important to help us make better decisions. As we get older, this becomes even more important because our reasoning skills can be hurt not only by aging but also by isolation—the very thing that’s helped us get through Covid-19.
Money or information
Let’s face it, scammers are in business. Just like any legitimate business person, they want a payback now or later. It’s the reason so many businesses want to put you on their mailing lists. Scammers are no different. If they can score personal information from a person, that improves the likelihood of success in a future scam. If they can get account information such as account numbers, usernames or passwords, that’s even better. Basically, all that information winds up as fuel for future scams.
No legitimate business will ever ask you for your password for an account with them. Also, protect your bank account information. If you send someone a check or deposit a check sent to you, the other party can get your account number.
People tend not to do business with companies they don’t trust. That’s why scammers put so much effort into gaining the trust of the person they’re trying to scam. As Joel Sauer pointed out, “They will do research on you ahead of time, often, try and use information they learn about your family, friends, what your career was, what your interests are, what your investments are to try to convince you that they understand you, and that they’re looking out for you.”
From scams in which the caller claims to be a friend or relative stranded in a foreign country to those where they impersonate law enforcement, gaining trust is the most critical component of the scam. No matter how believable their story, there are two ways to avoid becoming a victim.
Always verify the information you’ve been given through a second source. For a friend or relative, go back to using your network to find out if the emergency really exists. If the caller claims to be from a company or the government, use a known website or phone number to contact them. One great tip is to bookmark important websites so you don’t have to look them up each time you need them.
Listen for the sense of urgency claim
Eventually, every scammer will want money or information, and they’ll give a deadline. In marketing, this is the ‘call to action.’ It’s the button in an email that tells you to click a link to order now. In a phone call, it will be a verbal requirement to take action before an offer goes away or something bad happens.
Ways to protect yourself from scams during Covid-19
According to Schwab.com/SchwabSafe there are four keys to keeping your information safe. These keys apply no matter who you bank with.
- Check your account for suspicious activity
- Verify payment requests
- Do not share personal or sensitive information on social media
- Be cautious when anyone asks for your personal or financial information
Did you like this scam tip? If so, check out last month’s tip, Three tips to shut down warranty scams.