Five Tips to Protect Against Fraud During the Pandemic

Liz Loewy

Liz Loewy
Co-Founder & COO, EverSafe

The dire effects of COVID19 have impacted both public health and the economy across the US. Predictably, fraudsters are now hard at work, taking advantage of the virus in an all-out effort to steal from investors. Scammers often target older adults. With aging comes wisdom, but also challenges that make many seniors more vulnerable to fraud in later life. Declines in the cognitive function of older investors may diminish their capacity to manage financial affairs, especially if judgement or insight is affected. Add a catastrophic event forcing those individuals to stay at home, isolated from the loved ones and professionals they rely on, and a 'perfect storm' for elder fraud is born.

It is common knowledge among law enforcement professionals that fraud and identity theft escalate in the wake of natural disasters. Whether it's a hurricane, flood, or devastating virus, scammers are masters at exploiting situations in which people are frightened and distracted. The COVID-19 pandemic created such an environment. And the fact that older family members are cut off from loved ones makes them even more vulnerable to fraudsters, identity thieves, and larcenists. Criminals understand that this fast-moving virus has left people panicked and desperate to find solutions that will safeguard their health.

"As fraudsters seek to capitalize on the heightened uncertainty and fear surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, it is essential to remain vigilant, particularly around sharing financial and personal information. Morgan Stanley Fraud Operations prioritize the safety and security of your personal and financial information. We are here for you to assist with any inquiries you may have."

Ivy Gong, Global Head of Fraud Operations, Morgan Stanley

Scams related to COVID-19 have exploded in the last few weeks, targeting both individuals and businesses. Corona-related attacks spiked 667% from February to more than 9,000 incidents as of March 23rd, according to American Banker. Most of these schemes involve some variation of phishing, vishing or smishing—purportedly legitimate communications that attempt to induce individuals to reveal personal information, such as passwords or financial information via email, telephone call or text. Common virus-related scams include offers for sham testing kits, medications, vaccines, and Personal Protective Equipment, like face masks. Others involve communications related to stimulus (CARES) checks or phony charities professing to help those who are most affected by the virus.

While no surefire way exists to prevent all fraud and identity theft during the pandemic, there are concrete steps caregivers and professionals can take to help protect loved ones and clients while sheltering in place. They include the following:

Educate yourself, family members and clients about known and emerging scams that exploit the COVID19 virus. Have these conversations - early and often. If they have any questions about an email, text, or phone call, encourage them to reach out to you to confirm their legitimacy. One of our partners, EverSafe, runs a COVID19 Hotline available to individuals who have questions about suspicious communications.

EverSafe monitors the financial health of seniors and families to protect against fraud, scams, and age-related issues. A groundbreaking tool, EverSafe identifies irregularities in banking, investment, retirement and credit card accounts daily, as well as credit and real estate records — alerting members and designated trusted advocates — across the miles.

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Be wary of solicitations from purported charities or services. If necessary, take steps to verify them independently. Remind loved ones and clients that government agencies do not make telephone calls or send emails requesting personal information. According to the Department of Justice, scammers may utilize " or instead of" — understand that they're very good at what they do. Any communication asking for "confirmation" of personal or financial information, even if from an ostensible government representative (e.g. Medicare, Social Security, IRS) or financial institution (e.g. insurance company) should be disregarded.

Caution relatives and clients not to open unexpected attachments or click links in emails, especially from senders they don't recognize. Many scammers use these methods to send malware or ransomware that can infect devices, ultimately stealing passwords, financial account information, and more.

Be on the look-out for 'special offers' of personal protective equipment, such as virus test kits, medications, or vaccines. Requests to re-set passwords are usually a red-flag. Note that Certificate Errors may also be a warning that a site is not legitimate.

Finally, encourage computer-savvy family members and clients to bank online and use technology tools to keep an eye on financial accounts, credit cards, and credit while sheltering in place. This is especially important for seniors who routinely visit their local banks and pay bills in person. Online banking can be critical in blocking account-takeover schemes while alerts for erratic activity and unpaid bills can be sent to individuals and designated loved ones. Having an 'extra set of eyes' monitor a loved one's or client's finances may be the single most important way to remain protected from virus-related schemes. Vigilant team-monitoring can save investors enormous loss and emotional devastation during these challenging times.

The views, opinions or advice contained within this article are solely those of the author, who is not a Morgan Stanley employee, and do not necessarily reflect those of Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC, or its affiliates.

Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC is not implying an affiliation, sponsorship, endorsement with/of the third party or that any monitoring is being done by Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC ("Morgan Stanley") of any information contained within the website. Morgan Stanley is not responsible for the information contained on the third party website or the use of or inability to use such site. Nor do we guarantee their accuracy or completeness.

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