Protecting Your Identity During the COVID PandemicSep 23, 2020 ● By The Hood Magazine
By: Alexis Warner, Attorney
Woods, Fuller, Shultz & Smith, PC
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 have also 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 your 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 notifications when a charge is made. If you identify any concerning charges, even charges in small amounts, contact the financial institution immediately.
Frequently change your 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. In order to combat this problem, frequently change your online passwords and set up strong passwords 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 completely changed to effectively prevent breaches. If you struggle with remembering passwords, there are apps like “Last Pass” and “Key Pass” that you can use to store your passwords. It is recommended, however, that you use the facial or fingerprint scan when accessing those apps.
Do not “save password” on any computer, especially a shared computer.
Password length is more important than password complexity.
Enable a two-factor authentication for all accounts.
Be a savvy online shopper.
As of August 5, 2020, the FTC tallied over 80,000 fraud reports and over $98 million in fraud losses. Of those totals, over half were scams related to online shopping ($13.89 million) and travel/vacation ($33.88 million).
In order to avoid becoming one of these statistics:
Always ensure you are using a secure website (secure websites begin with https://)
Never use public wireless internet while online shopping or accessing financial accounts
Avoid using debit cards to online shop (credit cards are backed by a credit agency and are therefore more secure if your card is breached)
If you are notified a website has been breached, create a new password using the above-described tips.
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% from January to April 2020. 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, CPA’s, government agencies, 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 in an email. Verify any links 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% 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? Research the charity. You can verify legitimate charities at www.givewell.org or www.charitynavigator.org and by visiting the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website.
Remove personal information from your 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/or birthdate.
If you suspect you have been a victim of a scam, online fraud, or identity theft, you may want to consider contacting an attorney to help you sort through the personal and financial implications. For additional information contact Alexis Warner or visit woodsfuller.com.