May 17, 2020

COVID-19 scams target bank accounts, stimulus checks, puppies

[USA Today, Getty Images]

The COVID-19 crisis has con artists cooking up even more schemes than you might imagine. 

How about this one? A consumer recently received an email from someone claiming to be from their financial institution.

And the bank claimed that, somehow, the customer’s banking information was not accurate and was creating trouble with the deposit of the Economic Impact Payment, according to Melissa Gaddis, senior director of customer success for TransUnion Global Fraud & Identity Solutions. 

The bank customer was told, supposedly by the bank, that if they wanted stimulus cash they would first need to verify their account number. 

Fortunately, the person had two clues for avoiding real trouble: The bank’s name was not correct. And their real financial institution had already sent out an email alert about the scam. 

Given all the financial anxiety in the world now during the coronavirus pandemic, it’s easy to see why scammers are increasingly trying to impersonate your bank or credit union. Or sell you something they’re never going to deliver. 

Millions of people are out of work; others are working from home; and we’re all stuck sitting around the house most of the time. We’re ordering groceries online, doing more banking online, and going to all sorts of websites, some that may be fraudulent. 

New TransUnion research indicated that we’ve seen an increase in online attempts to steal personal information or engage in fraud since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 to be a global pandemic on March 11. 

Fraudulent e-commerce sites are pushing free giveaways or refer-a-friend promotions. Crooks are trying to use stolen credit cards to pay for services at telecommunications companies. And fraudsters are using stolen identities when dealing with financial service companies.  

Consumers are being warned to watch out for an increase in activity where a fraudster will take control of their online account – known as an account takeover. 

In an account takeover, criminals gain access to someone’s bank account to make unauthorized withdrawals and purchases. Sometimes, the fraudsters will change log-in details to the account. In many cases, con artists engage in phishing activities as part of the scheme. 

Millennials are most likely to be targeted by fraudsters using COVID-19 scams, according to a TransUnion survey.

TransUnion found that the highest percentages of suspected fraudulent transactions originated out of Yemen, Syria and Kazakhstan. Also, the highest percentage of suspected fraudulent transactions in U.S. cities were out of Springfield, Massachusetts; Akron, Ohio, and Louisville, Kentucky.

Other COVID-19 fraud alerts include:

Phony websites selling masks

More than 19,000 new websites popped up selling Personal Protective Equipment, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. And there are reports of many sites taking orders, accepting payments and never delivering products, according to the Florida attorney general. 

Get my stimulus payment quick scams

The Internal Revenue Service has warned consumers to watch out for scams where someone out of the blue calls you or texts you to verify personal or banking information in order to speed up your Economic Impact Payment. 

Some scams could be conducted via social media or even in person where someone makes claims that they can get an Economic Impact Payment for you quickly. 

In some cases, a taxpayer might be mailed a bogus check, perhaps in an odd amount, then con artists will tell the taxpayer to call a number or verify information online in order to cash it.

Scammers know that checks will soon be hitting bank accounts and mailboxes through June or later. So you don’t want to respond to text messages or provide financial information. Don’t trust a Caller ID that might claim to be a call from the IRS. 

The Quarantine Puppy Scam

Stay at home orders might be leading some consumers to think that now is as good a time as any to get a new puppy. 

But an uptick in puppy scams can chew into your savings.

Don’t jump without thinking twice at social media postings or online ads that have cute pictures of puppies for sale. The dog might not even be real, and you could be out $1,000 or more. 

The Better Business Bureau is warning: “The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has given scammers the idea to ask for money upfront, or to make excuses as to why buyers can’t see the pet in person — before heartbroken, would-be pet owners figure out they have been conned.”


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