Protect Your Credit Cards From Pandemic Fraud
Living through the COVID-19 pandemic can be difficult, confusing and anxiety-inducing all on its own, but where there's a crisis, there are also fraudsters who try to make the situation an opportunity for them to make money and steal consumers' personal information.
While you're taking care to keep a safe distance from other people and wash your hands in order to prevent the spread of the virus, you also now have to be vigilant about not getting duped by scams that can destroy your credit.
The Department of Justice has already filed an enforcement action against operators of a website called coronavirusmedicalkit.com that promised consumers they could get a World Health Organization COVID-19 vaccine kit for free—but just pay $4.95 in shipping for it. Hopeful people who didn't realize that there isn't yet a vaccine for COVID-19 would give the site their credit card information, which then could be used for fraudulent purposes.
"The Department of Justice will not tolerate criminal exploitation of this national emergency for personal gain," said Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt of the Department of Justice’s Civil Division, in a statement. "We will use every resource at the government’s disposal to act quickly to shut down these most despicable of scammers, whether they are defrauding consumers, committing identity theft, or delivering malware."
While that scam website has been taken down, other scams are floating around the Internet, including non-existent online stores that take your money and credit card information but never send you the products.
The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CSIA) warns people to be wary of unsolicited emails, particularly those from unknown people or entities, with a subject line that refers to COVID-19 or the coronavirus and asks you to click on a link or open an attachment. These can contain malware or phish for your personal information.
The CSIA warns that some phishing scams may ask you to send your credit card information via email. Don't do this, as it can be easily intercepted and leave your personal financial information compromised.
Another scam to be aware of is around the federal government's plan to send everyone stimulus checks. Until this plan is enacted, don't believe any person, email or website that promises to get you the money right now. Also beware of calls, emails or websites that ask you to send money or give out bank account information, credit card numbers or Social Security numbers in order to get the government stimulus.
The CSIA also says that while your friends may be well-meaning, their social media posts asking you to donate to a cause could unknowingly also be scams that prey on your kindness to donate to a scam organization. If you wish to donate to an organization, first make sure it's a real charity first, as many scam charities pop up during disasters.
If you've curtailed your spending, make it a habit to monitor your online credit card statements regularly so that you're quickly aware of any unauthorized spending. Many credit card issuers offer notification services that let you know when a transaction occurs where the card wasn't present at the time of purchase, such as an online purchase.
Finally, you may want to consider placing a credit freeze on your credit report. This free service from the three credit bureaus prevents creditors from accessing your credit report, so if a thief has your personal information and tries to get a credit card in your name, the credit card issuing bank won't be able to check your credit report to authorize the card.
Granted, if you're applying for some form of credit—say a loan or a credit card—you'll have to lift the freeze before you submit the application so that the creditor can check your application.