The digital world continues to evolve at a dizzying pace. There are, of course, all the usual software updates. There is an ever-widening scope of goods and services based online, ranging from giants like Amazon and Uber to countless smaller sites catering to even the most obscure interests or needs.
An unfortunate byproduct of all this innovation is that fraudsters and scammers find new ways to use digital or online technology to steal from their victims. The FBI documented $3.5 billion in losses due to internet scams in 2019, which is the most ever, and that number is likely to grow when the final number for 2020 are tallied. The fraudulent activity often involves victims providing credit card information to scammers or sending gift cards or wiring money to an account.
COVID-19 related scams on the rise
The pandemic has forced millions to alter their lives. Many are working from home and have become skilled at using video conferencing to attend meetings or stay in contact with the family. They may now shop online even when they go to a store to pick up the purchase.
Fraudsters are taking advantage of increased online use in many ways. Often, they use legitimate messaging about the virus to lure victims into giving them money. Common scams include:
- Fake health organizations: They pose as health authorities like the World Health Organization by providing helpful information, but then they offer fake cures, testing, or other COVID-related services and products.
- Counterfeit products: They may sell high-demand items like disinfectant wipes, masks and hand sanitizer, so make sure the retailer is reputable.
- Fraudulent non-profits: There are too many worthy causes to count out there right now, but confirm the organization’s validity before making online contributions.
- Fraudulent financial offers: Many are enduring difficult economic challenges, which may leave them vulnerable to financial information to scammers posing as bill collectors, banks or others offering to help.
There are still a variety of other scams. These may include pleas for disaster relief, tech support for fake viruses, phishing schemes that push victims to fake sites, or other websites offering massive discounts for products.
Always verify sources
Potential victims can help protect themselves by staying alert to scams. On the surface, paying for something on eBay is safe, but red flags should go off if the buyer asks for a gift card they are willing to “pay” for. It also helps to check the URL in the browser before any transaction outside the circle of trusted retail sites. These simple tips can end up saving money and avoid financial headaches in the long run.