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Protecting your identity during the COVID-19 pandemic

As COVID continues to impact our world, the risk of scams, fraud and identity theft has steadily increased. Preying on virus-related fears, scammers have systematically infiltrated both our personal and work lives.

For example, scammers have attempted to steal federal stimulus payments by sending out fake calls or phishing emails aimed at accessing personal information. Scammers also have targeted those working remotely by sending fake Zoom invitations in an attempt to steal passwords. Although our economy and “life as we know it” is still hanging in the balance, the following steps can help ensure your identity is better protected.

Check you savings, checking, credit card and other key financial accounts

One of the best ways to help protect your identity is to stay up to date on the status of your financial accounts. For your bank and credit card accounts, sign up for email or text message notifications with your financial institutions so you receive alerts when a charge is made. If you identify any concerning charges, even ones in small amounts, contact the financial institution immediately.

Frequently change online passwords

With many services moving to online apps, your personal information is now stored on more platforms than ever before. These applications provide additional opportunities for scammers to access your information. To combat this problem, frequently change your online passwords, and set up strong ones for each individual account you create. The following are a few passwords tips:

  • Do not use the same or similar password over and over. If prompted to change your password, or if you change your password frequently, change it completely. Although it is convenient to change “IlovemydogSkip” to “IlovemydogSkip1,” your password should be changed completely to effectively prevent breaches. If you struggle with remembering passwords, there are apps such as Last Pass and Key Pass that you can use to store passwords. It is recommended, however, that you use the facial or fingerprint scan when accessing those apps.
  • Do not save your password on any computer, especially a shared one.
  • Password length is more important than complexity.
  • Enable a two-factor authentication for all accounts.

Be a savvy online shopper

As of Aug. 5, the Federal Trade Commission tallied over 80,000 fraud reports and over $98 million in fraud losses. Of those totals, over half were scams related to online shopping at $13.9 million and travel/vacation at $33.9 million.

To avoid becoming one of these statistics:

  • Always ensure you are using a secure website – those that begin with https://.
  • Never use public wireless internet while shopping or accessing financial accounts.
  • Avoid using debit cards to shop online because credit cards are backed by a credit agency and, therefore, are more secure if your card is breached.
  • If you are notified a website has been breached, change your password using the tips described above.

Be on the lookout for phishing emails

Malicious attempts to access online networks are on the rise, and efforts using false impersonations have increased by over 30 percent from January to April. Phishing emails are becoming more sophisticated and often use authentic logos and other tactics to appear legitimate. Additionally, the FBI has noted an increase in phishing emails asking consumers to make donations to local hospitals and charities that are fake.

The following is a list of questions you should ask yourself before opening a “phishy” email:

  • Are you expecting this email?
  • Is there generic or poor wording in the email subject or body?
  • Who is this email from? Always compare the sender name and sender email address. If they don’t match or are suspicious, take extra care. Be very suspicious of any emails that look like they come from tax professionals, CPAs, government agencies or IT security firms or if they have anything to do with cryptocurrency.
  • Are there attachments or links associated with this email? Be extra cautious with any attachments or links. Verify a link in an email by placing your mouse over it and reviewing the address that you will be taken to. When in doubt – don’t click!
  • Am I 100 percent confident this email is what it says it is? If there is any question about the safety of an email, do not open it.
  • Is this charity legitimate? Do your research. You can verify legitimate charities at givewell.org or charitynavigator.org and by visiting the FTC website.

Remove personal information from social media accounts

The more information scammers can glean by simply looking at your social media accounts, the easier it may be for them to steal your identity. Either remove or keep private all personal identifying information such as your mailing address, email address, phone number, employer and birth date.

August 11, 2020