An email, text or call can always look like a lifeline for help for those experiencing financial hardship, but beware: Those behind the messages are expected to get even more sophisticated.
“They’re probably going to use a lot more language that is more realistic now,” said Karim Hijazi, the CEO of Prevailion Cybersecurity Company. “It’s going to be harder to figure out what is a legitimate bit of information coming your way.”
Hijazi suggests being extra cautious with any phone calls, emails, text or links sent to you.
“I think the vigilance has to just be amped up that much more,” he said. “Confirm the authenticity of the email address it is coming from. If it’s a phone number that you don’t recognize, let it go to voicemail. Let them leave a message. Honestly, I have a policy with my family, my company and everyone: If you don’t recognize the number, they can leave a message. They know that we’re a security company. We’re not going to pick up numbers. We don’t respond to texts that don’t seem like they are solicited by us. So that policy is very simple. It takes a little bit of discipline, but it’s really worth it in the long run.”
Schemes have increased since the pandemic began.
“In June, there were over 8 million robocalls,” said Michael Keegan, CEO of Transaction Network Services. “In June 2019, it was 3.7 million.”
The topics for the next round of schemes will likely remain the same as some you have already seen—stimulus checks and coronavirus relief unemployment. You might think you can spot fraud, but even security experts like Hijazi said he has been impressed at how legitimate they can look.
“Robocalls and texts that are very, very convincing, some of which I’ve even gotten that I’ve been like, 'Wow, that’s pretty close to the reality right there,'” he said.
That is because schemers already tested what works during the first round of stimulus and federal unemployment benefits. Here is what to watch for:
“You’ll receive a text message from the IRS saying, hey, we need some additional information to be able to process your stimulus check,” said Keegan. “Your unemployment benefits are expiring. We need additional information to make sure that you receive them moving forward.”
It can be confusing. We have plenty of questions about how to get the next stimulus payment, how to renew unemployment benefits and even if those benefits will come. Getting answers is not easy. Phone lines are often busy, and government employees are working from home. Know this:
“The government wouldn’t necessarily contact you about your stimulus checks,” Keegan said. “They won’t be asking you for additional information. They have all of that information mostly, you know, from your tax filing.”
Make sure to ask plenty of questions if you get a call from anyone saying they are with a government agency.
“Ask for the name,” said Keegan. “Ask for the agency. Ask for the number to call back. You know, ask for a lot of the information and they’re probably not going to give it to you. Most likely they’re going to hang up on you when you start asking for that type of information.”
Falling for a scheme can cost you. A person loses $265 on average, amounting to a financial hit many of us just cannot afford to take. So be cautious of anyone offering unsolicited help. They are likely trying to help themselves to your money.
Texans reported a 122% increase in schemes since the pandemic began.
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