Unfortunately, fraud has been a part of our society for ages, but the ease of digital communication has brought about a torrent of scams that unscrupulous cybercriminals use to try to separate people from their money. The pandemic has seen an uptick in such attempts, as scammers took advantage of more people being home using their computers and engaging with unfamiliar government programs. Here are some of the most prevalent scams and phishes from the Summer of 2021:
Stimulus Check Fraud
The issuance of direct payments from the federal government over the last year and a half has resulted in many attempts to intercept checks or otherwise steal personal information. These scams typically take the form of someone calling, texting or emailing, claiming to be from the government and suggesting that you have a payment for you, but they need your bank account and routing information. Remember: direct deposit for stimulus checks is based on the information submitted to the IRS during the previous year. If the IRS doesn’t have your banking information, they will send a paper check. The government will never reach out like this for your personal information.
E-Tailer Customer Service Scam
The remote support scam has been a favorite of fraudsters and cybercriminals for years. In this scam, a scary pop-up comes on your screen (really just an obtrusive ad) that says there’s a problem with your computer, urging you to call an 800 number to fix it. The scammers then remote into your computer, try to skim data, mess with your settings and attempt to charge you for the pleasure. A new twist on this classic has developed to take advantage of the massive rise in online shopping which has occurred over the last two years. The scammers call a number at random and claim to be from Amazon customer service. They say they got an alert because your account just made a large purchase of an unusual item (they’re relying on the statistical likelihood that you shop on Amazon). You tell them you didn’t make this purchase. At this point they say, “no problem, we’ll reverse the charges, but we need to remote into your computer to complete a refund through your bank account.” They then try to collect your banking credentials and any other stored passwords they can get their hands on. It might go without saying, but Amazon has no business remoting into your computer, ever. If this ever happens to you, hang up, go to your actual Amazon account page and contact their customer service directly.
Business Impersonation Scams
This one relies on old-school social engineering. A scammer will make an email address using the name of someone at a company (usually this information is available through the “about us” section on a business’s website) then send a request to someone else in the company for some sort of payment, typically by wire transfer, pre-paid credit cards or gift cards. If you ever get a strange or unusual communication that appears to be from someone you know, especially if it requests payments or financial information, it’s a good idea to contact that person via another method (such as a phone call, or a good old fashion in-person conversation) to verify that the message is legitimate.
Scammers don’t give any indication of slowing down. Microsoft suggests that three out of five consumers have encountered a tech support scam in the last 12 months. One out of six consumers was tricked into continuing the scam, often leading to financial loss. As always, remember that Microsoft and Apple will not call you unprompted—the US government tries to communicate primarily by mail. If something sounds fishy, it probably is. If you encounter something you aren’t sure of or need advice for shoring up your digital security, you can always call your local trusted advisors at Mankato Computer Technology.