(StatePoint) Headline news often directly impacts the types of scams you may encounter, and scammers have been hoping to take advantage of those left vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic -- and they have been successful. By October 2020, Americans had already lost more than $160 million as a result of COVID-19-related fraud, according to data analyzed by the Atlas VPN research team.
During tax season, the administration of the vaccine, and the issuance of a second round of stimulus checks, staying vigilant is especially critical, as scammers will likely attempt to make hay of these timely events.
“Any time there’s anything new and it’s involving the masses, the bad guys find a way to incorporate it into their schemes,” identity theft protection expert Carrie Kerskie recently told T-Mobile Stories. “I foresee more ‘smishing messages’ -- the text equivalent of the now age-old phishing email -- revolving around the vaccine, testing and contact tracing, as well as the classic IRS stuff.”
Kerskie offers advice on what to watch out for in the coming months, as well as tips to protect yourself:
• Tax Season: Scammers are revving up their annual attempts to trick individuals and businesses during tax season. Be wary of any calls claiming to be from the IRS or other government agency, saying “we just need to verify your bank account information so we can do your direct deposit,” or “we just need to verify your social security number.” The IRS will never make contact through emails, social media or text messages -- and a government agency will never call you asking for money without first sending requests via mail. No matter who the caller is claiming to be, if they become aggressive or pushy, simply hang up.
• Vaccine Rollout: As the COVID-19 vaccine slowly rolls out nationwide, be wary of any calls claiming they can get you on a waitlist or move you to the front of the line for a fee. Consult only your doctor and local health authorities about how and when to get vaccinated. Likewise, don’t fall for any scams offering to forge paperwork claiming you have been vaccinated.
• Text Messages: When it comes to text messages, never click on any links or reply. Don’t even type “S-T-O-P.” While that might work for legitimate companies, when you do it to a spammer, you’re telling them there’s a live person at the end of this number who responds to text messages.
• Safeguards: Take advantage of the free anti-fraud safeguards offered by your mobile carrier. In the case of T-Mobile’s Scam Shield, services include scam ID and blocking, which flags suspicious calls and gives customers the option of blocking those numbers, as well as enhanced caller ID and ID monitoring. Additionally, customers can get a free second number to keep their personal number personal, or even change their primary number completely if it becomes too much of a spam magnet.
“Scammers are becoming more savvy, but thankfully, so are the tools consumers have at their disposal to deflect them,” says Kerskie. “And when in doubt, I like to tell people ‘validate or eliminate.’ If you can’t validate the sender or caller – just delete their voicemail, email or text.”
For more information and tips on how to protect yourself from scammers, visit www.T-Mobile.com.
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