The Rise of Cyber Crime and Scam Alerts in the Age of Covid
As if this past year wasn’t difficult enough trying to remain healthy and safe, the pandemic was made just that much worse by a parallel breakout of coronavirus scams, ransomware, and cyber crime. While we have discussed covid scams in the past, we have seen an exponential rise in the type and ferocity of these scams and crimes that they warrant another look and an update as to what is happening currently. As of the summer of 2021, covid cyber crimes and scams have grown at an alarming rate. Both the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have put out special warnings regarding these cyber crimes. Today we will take a look at those statistics as reported by the experts in their field, examine what a typical scam looks like, and talk about how you can protect yourself and your business going forward. Buckle up, because the covid crisis isn’t just being played out in hospitals across the country, but on the digital highway on devices in every single home and business. Read on to educate yourself, your family, and your employees to ensure that these scams are not successful against you or your business.
The Increase of Crime By-the-Numbers
As we mentioned earlier, groups like the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Bureau of Investigation have been monitoring the millions of complaints filed in 2020 regarding internet crime. According to reports in GovtTech, the FBI and FTC have been collecting data, monitoring, and investigating internet crimes at an alarming rate compared to previous years. For instance, the FBI collected data for “791,790 suspected Internet crimes, an increase of more than 300,000 compared to 2019.” Of those crimes, the most common were phishing scams, non-payment, non-delivery scams and extortion - which caused approximately $4.2 million in losses!One only needs to look at the massive uptick in cyber crime statistics to understand that this issue is growing quickly and expanding in the type and scope of scams out there. Let’s take, for example, the 14 months between March 2020 (when the lockdown began) and May 2021, (when most restrictions were beginning to lift) to see that “the number of Internet crime complaints jumped from 5 million to 6 million total since 2000.” (FBI) That’s an increase of a million complaints in one year! Another statistic to examine to see the dramatic rise in cyber scams and crimes is the daily intake of calls to the authorities from consumers and businesses. Prior to the pandemic, the FBI received approximately 1,000 cyber crime calls a day. As of the first quarter of 2020, the calls increased to 3,000 to 4,000 calls daily! The FBI aren’t the only organization seeing an increase in crime reports. The FTC reports that as of July 5, 2021, it “ had logged more than 538,000 consumer complaints related to COVID-19 and stimulus payments, nearly three-fourths of them involving fraud or identity theft. These scams have cost consumers $485.7 million, with a median loss of $365.” (Source: AARP)
Types of Scams You May Encounter
Cyber criminals and pandemic fraudsters are using every available mode of interaction to scam potential victims from bogus social media posts to phishing emails, robocalls, impostor schemes and fraudulent texts. Here are some of the more common scams that you may encounter at work or home as well as some methods to prevent them from being successful.
Topping the list of the more common scams are the phishing scam variety. The United States Attorney’s Office has pointed out several phishing scams that try to disguise themselves as legitimate organizations. Some of the organizations that scammers try to falsely claim to be are the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), two groups that are on the front lines of battling this pandemic. Be very suspicious of any emails from these two organizations if they are trying to get you to enter your personal or sensitive information in order to join an investment opportunity to help hospitals or companies working on a vaccine. Protect yourself by not opening or clicking on links or attachments from someone you don’t know or from a group that would not normally send you a personal email like the CDC or WHO. Be especially skeptical if they ask you to download attachments that may or may not be trustworthy. For added assurance, be sure that your anti-virus software is up-to-date and current with the most advanced security protocols.
Vaccine or Bogus Cure Scams
Cyber criminals are out in full force trying to convince online browsers that they have an at-home remedy or cure that you could be a part of. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) says consumers should be on the lookout for these signs of vaccine scams including: requests that ask you to pay out of pocket to receive a shot or get on a vaccine waiting list, ads for vaccines in websites, social media posts, emails or phone calls, or marketers offering to sell or ship doses of COVID-19 vaccines.
We all want to feel helpful during this very trying time, but be aware of those who are willing to prey upon people who want to donate. The FBI advises checking directly with a charity and researching the charity before you donate to avoid this type of cyber crime. Question charities that come from unknown sources or ask for your personal data. Contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud hotline at 866-720-5721 or online at justice.gov/DisasterComplaintForm if you suspect a fraudulent company attempting to collect charity donations.
We are pretty sure that all of us get these types of calls at some time or other. There has been a massive increase in robocalls during the pandemic regardless of whether we are on the famed “no call list.” Many fraudsters call, using a local area code, claiming to be with a government agency, the CDC, FBI, or local hospital hoping to gain donations for covid research or covid patients. Do not give out your information to any of these calls. Rather, find the group online and confirm they are actually collecting and donating directly.
Small Business Scams
With the passage of the American Rescue Plan and the initiation of Payroll Protection Plans for small and medium sized businesses, there are scammers willing to dupe business leaders into handing over their private data either online or on the phone. Be sure you are filling out the forms with the correct government agency on a secure site and protecting your business data as you do so.
How You Can Protect Yourself & Your Business
The Federal Trade Commission is very much aware of these common types of cyber crime and scams. In order to be proactive and guard yourself and your business against these acts, they have created a list of ways to protect yourself.
Don’t respond to texts or emails from the government without confirming the sender first. Here is a quick guide about stimulus checks and navigating the government programs currently available.
Do your own research if you want to donate to a charity.
Stay on top of the facts. Follow coronavirus.gov to be sure you are not being scammed in an email, text, or robocall. Social media is not the place to find your facts.
Ignore emails (and don’t click on links) that claim to have a miracle cure.
Hang up on robocalls.
Never fill out forms or give your private information to a charity, research group, or educational facility claiming to be working on coronavirus without checking up on their standing first.
Never give your bank or password information out to someone claiming to be from the CDC or WHO.
A Final Note
In the next few months we will continue to hear about the coronavirus and its impacts around the globe. With each new variant, the stakes will go up once again and these cyber crimes will see a spike in frequency. Keep your private information private by being vigilant every time you open your inbox, email, or get a text. Safeguard your devices by making sure they have the most recent software updates and patches to protect you against vulnerabilities. If you have questions about how protected you are from cyber crime or want a review of protections or training for your employees contact our team for a consultation.