Andy Hill Talking to Client

Protect Your Assets from Pandemic Scams and Fraud

You need to protect your assets from pandemic scams and fraud because cyber-attacks can result in stolen identity and lost assets that in some cases are catastrophic. It does not matter if you know the difference between phishing, smishing, malspam or ransomware attacks. If you have been victim to one of these computer attacks, you probably know the impact.  

A TransUnion survey found that 10% of consumers have been victims of identity theft since the start of the pandemic. Forbes magazine reported Americans have lost more than $106 million to fraud this year. The Federal Trade Commission has received more than 197,000 fraud reports.  

Cyber criminals quickly recognized the advantage of the shift in 2020 to all things online. They have been capitalizing on the crisis ever since.  

Protect Your Assets: New Threats 

Carrie Kerskie, a key member of the Collier Identity Theft Task Force and president of Kerskie Group. We asked her to talk about new threats and how to protect your assets.  

“I have worked with people from all walks of life who have been victims,” Kerskie said. “I had an actual rocket scientist who fell for one of these scams. The bad guys are professionals, and this is modern day, organized crime.”  

She confirmed that fraud, scams and identify theft are up during the pandemic. Criminals are taking advantage of new sources of information. These have included online registration for COVID-19 vaccinations, stimulus payments and filing for unemployment benefits.  

For quicker processing during the pandemic, the government dropped many security measures. CARES ACT benefits lost an estimated $63 to $100 billion. And the Department of Labor estimates over $36 billion just for fraudulent unemployment benefit claims.  

Some other COVID-vaccine-related scams include offers to fast-track vaccine appointments, vaccine passports for travel and health insurance verification for vaccines. Stimulus scams include alleged requests from the IRS to verify your account, promises for more stimulus or stealing identity for fraudulent claims. Fake businesses took out PPP and EIDL loans.  

With everyone shopping online, the Amazon scams have become huge. A click on a link that looks legitimate about an order problem can result in remote access to your computer. The criminal then waits until you sign in, giving them information and passwords to empty your accounts.  

Tools Used by Criminals 

Suspicious activity on your account, and notification or letters about accounts you did not open are warning signs that your information may have been used in a scam. These can include mail from the Small Business Administration, a creditor about a new credit line, the United States Post Office verifying a change of address, and unknown tax forms or 1099-G forms for unemployment benefits.  

Cyber criminals have also become more sophisticated, developing ways to fool consumers. Caller ID may be changed to look like a number you recognize, and email addresses can be altered to look legitimate, where the only way to identify the scam address is through email source code. Smishing, a cyberattack by text, may include a link that is used to access your information.  

Kerskie describes one couple who received a message about changing their passwords to their accounts because of an IT issue. When they clicked the link, the criminals were able to access their information and then told them to move their money to a holding account while the problem was resolved. The callers were so slick, they also convinced the couple not to call their bank or brokerage firm to confirm because the problem was so recent, it had not yet been communicated to the bank.  

With the sophistication of criminals, wire fraud transfers are also an issue. Some scams involve receiving an email with new instructions for the transfer that puts your money into a criminal’s account. If there is not another way to send funds, validate the transfer instructions by calling your financial institution directly. After the transfer is sent, call to confirm receipt. Catching fraud within 24-48 hours increases chances to get your money back.  

Tips to Protect Your Assets 

Kerskie’s tips for avoiding scams include:  

  • Always call the organization involved with a phone number on their website (not a number on an email or caller ID) to check if the communication is valid.  
  • Log onto your bank account or Amazon account to look at your activity or order history.  
  • If an email looks suspicious, call the sender (using a legitimate number) to verify.  
  • Be wary of calls you did not initiate, particularly ones that have a sense of urgency or consequences or demand payment in gift card, wire transfer or cash.  

In addition, it is important to be proactive to protect your assets. Through April 2022, you can request a free credit report every week by calling 877-322-8228 or visiting annualcreditreport.com. Be sure to look for activity with new accounts, different addresses, or creditors you do not recognize.  

A security freeze or credit freeze prevents new creditors from viewing your credit history report and criminals from using your information to open new accounts. A credit freeze is free and permanent, but you can temporarily lift it or remove it as needed.  

In addition, the Social Security Administration (SSA) allows you to manage your benefits online. Creating an online account at SSA.gov or calling 800-772-1213 to request a block on electronic access will prevent someone from creating an account using your information.  

One of the impacts of the pandemic has been a rise in uncertainty. But one thing to be certain about is the importance of remaining vigilant in protecting your assets by safeguarding your personal information so you do not become a victim of the identity theft pandemic.  

About the Author 

Andrew D.W. Hill is the President and Co-founder of Andrew Hill Investment Advisory, Inc., a Naples-based investment, and wealth management advisory firm with more than $130 million in client assets under management. 

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