If you were a scammer, what would you be paying attention to? What situations or stories are in the news that you could use to your devious advantage?
There are a couple of stories that are dominating the news that have become very lucrative sources of victims for their schemes — COVID-19 and the presidential election. Fraudsters love chaos, confusion and discord. These two subjects are tailor-made.
Back in March, NBC’s Nightly News anchor, Lester Holt, was asked if he had ever seen a story like the coronavirus. He instantly answered, “No, I haven’t. I always thought 9/11 would be the biggest story I would ever cover. But this is the biggest story we have ever seen.” And It continues to loom large on every newscast.
Now, mix in the presidential election coming up in less than two months, and we’ve got a couple of perfect scammer scenarios just waiting to be exploited.
Scammers know consumers will be getting millions of phone calls nationwide from pollsters, campaign volunteers and candidates’ fundraising organizations, so they design ploys to cover election scam opportunities. Here are a couple to look out for:
Polling: A scammer calls, claiming to be conducting a political survey and wants to know your views and opinions. They offer to give a gift card or other reward for taking the time to help. They ask several legitimate-sounding questions and then ask you to provide your credit card number to pay the shipping and taxes on the “prize” you have been promised.
Fundraising and Impersonation: Digital technology has made this a favorite scam tool. The Impersonation scam uses actual recordings of politician’s voices lifted from speeches and interviews. You get a call that sounds like one of the actual candidates or one of their campaign workers asking you to support them with a contribution to their campaign. You are then directed to press a number on your phone, where you will be redirected to an agent who will harvest your credit card information.
Here are some tips to help you avoid political scams:
Donate directly to the campaign office or official website. If over the phone, you make the call directly to the campaign, not from an unsolicited call to you.
Do not give out personal or banking information to pollsters. They do not need your credit card information or Social Security number.
Do not click any links showing up through email or social media. Use a search engine to find the official website of your candidate’s organization.
One of the largest scams to take advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic entails deliveries by UPS, Federal Express and Amazon. Social distancing and quarantine limitations saw many do their shopping online, with purchases being delivered. It seems the majority of online purchases during COVID-19 have been via a cell phone. Consumers have reported receiving text messages appearing to come from UPS or Federal Express indicating the need to update delivery preferences. To do so, they were required to click a link and provide their personal information. Clicking the link will open them to a couple of dangerous situations. They will either download dangerous malware or be taken to a website where they would be instructed to provide personal information to criminals who will steal their identity.
To protect yourself from this type of scam, never click on any link in an email or text message until you have verified it is legitimate by looking up the number and calling them yourself or visiting the delivery service’s website (FedEx is www.fedex.com; UPS is www.ups.com; and Amazon is www.amazon.com). Remember scammers can display authentic phone numbers on any caller ID.
Cheryl Parson is president of the Better Business bureau serving West Central Ohio. The BBB may be found on the Internet at www.lima.bbb.org.