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Fraud & Security


April 5, 2020
Grandparent scams in the age of Coronavirus
by Lisa Weintraub Schifferle, Attorney, FTC, Division of Consumer & Business Education
 
“Grandma: I’m in the hospital, sick, please wire money right away.”
“Grandpa: I’m stuck overseas, please send money.”
 
Grandparent scams can take a new twist – and a new sense of urgency – in these days of Coronavirus. Here’s what to keep in mind:
 
In grandparent scams, scammers pose as panicked grandchildren in trouble, calling or sending messages urging you to wire money immediately. They’ll say they need cash to help with an emergency – like paying a hospital bill or needing to leave a foreign country. They pull at your heartstrings so they can trick you into sending money before you realize it’s a scam. In these days of Coronavirus concerns, their lies can be particularly compelling. But we all need to save our money for the real family emergencies.
 
So, how can we avoid grandparent scams or family emergency scams? If someone calls or sends a message claiming to be a grandchild, other family member or friend desperate for money:
 
  • Resist the urge to act immediately – no matter how dramatic the story is.
  • Verify the caller’s identity. Ask questions that a stranger couldn’t possibly answer. Call a phone number for your family member or friend that you know to be genuine. Check the story out with someone else in your family or circle of friends, even if you’ve been told to keep it a secret.
  • Don’t send cash, gift cards, or money transfers – once the scammer gets the money, it’s gone!
For more information, read Family Emergency Scams. And if you get a scam call, report it to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint
 
April 3, 2020
Want to get your Coronavirus relief check? Scammers do too!
By Ari Lazarus, Consumer Education Specialist, FTC
 
You’ve probably heard the news by now – the government is sending out relief checks as part of the federal response to the Coronavirus. Scammers heard the same thing, and they’re hoping to cash in on yours.
 
The details of how this will all work are still coming together, but we do know a few things about how this will – and will not – work. For now, here are some things to know.
  1. You don’t need to do anything. As long as you filed taxes for 2018 and/or 2019, the federal government likely has the information it needs to send you your money. Social Security recipients and railroad retirees who are otherwise not required to file a tax return also do not need to do anything to receive their money. If you otherwise have not filed taxes recently, you may need to submit a simple tax return to get your check. (More on who’s eligible here.)
  2. Do not give anyone your personal information to “sign-up” for your relief check. There is nothing to sign up for. Anyone calling to ask for your personal information, like your Social Security number, PayPal account, or bank information is a scammer, plain and simple. Also be on the lookout for email phishing scams, where scammers pretend to be from the government and ask for your information as part of the “sign-up” process for the checks.
  3. To set up direct deposit of your check, communicate only with the IRS at irs.gov/coronavirus. And you only need to do this if you didn’t give the IRS your bank information on your 2018 or 2019 return. In the coming weeks, the IRS will be setting up an online form available through irs.gov/coronavirus. But nowhere else, and never in response to an email, text, or call.
  4. No one has early access to this money. Anyone that claims to is a scammer. The timeline for this process is not exact, but it looks like funds will start going out in the next few weeks. Scammers are using the lack of detail to try to trick people into giving their personal information and money.
To get official updates and more information, visit the IRS’s page on economic impact payments. And if you come across a scammer trying to take your check, we want to hear about it. Report it at ftc.gov/complaint
 
April 1, 2020
Passing the Time Online
By Mike Moreau Manager, Credit Union Services, Wipfli LLP
 
Many people are bored at home these days. As they shelter at home and social distancing orders are being expanded, folks are more and more turning to the electronic world for news and information and to relieve the boredom of being cooped up. I am used to working in my home office. I spend many working days servicing credit unions. But being at home today, every day, and with no clear end in sight, many of my online contacts on social media are getting bored. I can tell. And they’re letting their guards down.
 
Credit unions spend immense amounts of time, energy and resources to provide security to the membership. And some members are blowing it in the name of relief from the monotony of being home.
 
How? Online questionnaires. I see them all over Facebook, and I’m told they’re on Instagram too. Probably other social networks as well. What’s the first car you drove? What’s your mother’s maiden name? Where did you and your spouse meet? Today, I learned a lot about two of my online friends. I learned some obscure things about one: her maiden name (this one’s not so obscure); her mother’s maiden name; her father’s last name; his mother’s maiden name. But it didn’t end there. Just a few minutes later, I learned the same information about one of her friends who answered the call to play the game. Another of my friends took a similar but slightly different quiz. I just learned her college roommate’s full name. Sound familiar? Sure do — they sound like challenge questions.
 
The second friend I mentioned loves these quizzes. I also learned she’s been in her profession for 22 years. I know about a professional license she has. I know her field of study in both her bachelor’s program and her master’s program. I know her son’s birthday because she posted about it. I know she loves the smell of fresh-brewed coffee and doesn’t want to be disturbed while she drinks it. I know her high school, her high school class year and the three colleges she attended. I also know her birthday (at least her Facebook, possibly fake, birthday). The list goes on and on. And it’s not limited to these two friends.
 
This person has almost 900 Facebook friends. Are they all good, honest people? Probably. But maybe not. It only takes one bad apple to spoil the bushel. Who are your friends, and who will use this against you through social engineering or some sort of scam?
 
A message from NHFCU to our members: Letting your guard down when you are indoors and on line more than usual may seem like harmless fun. Before you hit that key or play that game, know it could impact you in the future. As we navigate through these unprecedented times, know we are here to provide you with information to help you avoid scams and to help you protect your financial and personal information.
 
March 26, 2020
FTC issues warning about COVID-19 money scams
 
As the world continues to grapple with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the federal government has discussed several proposals involving sending money by check or direct deposit to American consumers.
 
While the details are still being worked out, the Federal Trade Commission posted a blog entry on important things consumers should know, no matter what the final decision turns out to be.
Jennifer Leach, associate director of FTC’s Division of Consumer and Business Education, says:
 
  • The government will not ask you to pay anything up front to get this money. No fees. No charges. No nothing.
 
  • The government will not call to ask for your Social Security number, bank account, or credit card number. Anyone who does is a scammer.
 
  • These reports of checks aren’t yet a reality. Anyone who tells you they can get you the money now is a scammer.
She also urged consumers who spot one of these scams to submit a claim to the FTC. The agency also maintains a page with up-to-date information on the latest COVID-19 related scams.
Credit unions are also on high alert for COVID-19 fraud, and CUNA News highlighted efforts credit unions have already taken to stop scams. 
 
March 24, 2020
U.S. Attorney Urges the Public to Report Suspected Fraud Related to the Covid-19 Outbreak
 
U.S. Attorney Scott W. Murray of the District of New Hampshire today urged the public to report suspected fraud schemes related to COVID-19 (the Coronavirus) by calling the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) hotline (1-866-720-5721) or to the NCDF e-mail address disaster@leo.gov.  The public also can report fraud to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.IC3.gov.
            In coordination with the Department of Justice, Attorney General William Barr has directed U.S. Attorneys to prioritize the investigation and prosecution of Coronavirus fraud schemes.
            “During this national emergency, a small number of cruel and self-serving individuals are seeking to profit from the public’s fear of COVID-19,” said U.S. Attorney Murray. “There are reports of fraudsters selling counterfeit products and fake cures or setting up malicious websites in order to take advantage of people who are attempting to protect themselves from the virus. Such criminal exploitation will not be tolerated and will receive the full attention of federal law enforcement. I urge anyone who becomes aware of this type of fraud to report it. We will work closely with all of our law enforcement partners to end these despicable schemes and bring the criminals to justice.”
            In addition to the NCDF hotline, citizens also can report fraud to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) by visiting www.IC3.gov.
            “With the outbreak of COVID-19, scammers have found a platform that preys on people’s fears and could make them more likely to be victimized,” said Joseph R. Bonavolonta, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Boston Division.  “We want you to help us stop these fraudsters by reporting suspicious activity, fraud, and attempted fraud at ic3.gov.  We also want you to avoid falling prey to these scams. So don't click on links within emails from senders you don't recognize, always independently verify the information originates from a legitimate source, never supply your login credentials or financial data in response to an email, and visit websites by inputting their domains manually. By working together, we can help stop this type of activity."
            Some examples of the fraudulent schemes related to COVID-19 include:
  • Individuals and businesses selling fake cures for COVID-19 online and engaging in other forms of fraud.
  • Phishing emails from entities posing as the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Malicious websites and apps that appear to share Coronavirus-related information to gain and lock access to your devices until payment is received.
  • Seeking donations fraudulently for illegitimate or non-existent charitable organizations.
  • Medical providers obtaining patient information for COVID-19 testing and then using that information to fraudulently bill for other tests and procedures.      
            In a memorandum to U.S. Attorneys issued March 19, Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen also directed each U.S. Attorney to appoint a Coronavirus Fraud Coordinator to serve as the legal counsel for the federal judicial district on matters relating to the Coronavirus, direct the prosecution of Coronavirus-related crimes, and to conduct outreach and awareness activities.   The District of New Hampshire Coronavirus Fraud Coordinator is Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Hunter.  AUSA Hunter can be reached through the main number at the U.S. Attorney’s Office – (603) 225-1552.
            The NCDF can receive and enter complaints into a centralized system that can be accessed by all U.S. Attorneys, as well as Justice Department litigating and law enforcement components to identify, investigate and prosecute fraud schemes.  The NCDF coordinates complaints with 16 additional federal law enforcement agencies, as well as state Attorneys General and local authorities.
            To find more about Department of Justice resources and information, please visit www.justice.gov/coronavirus           
 
March 23, 2020
Deposits are Safe in Federally Insured Credit Unions
 
The National Credit Union Administration is reminding credit union members of the safety of their deposits in federally insured credit unions. The NCUA also reminds individuals to remain vigilant against COVID-19-related scams. 
 
Federally insured credit unions offer a safe place for credit union members to save money. All deposits at federally insured credit unions are protected by the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund, with deposits insured up to at least $250,000 per individual depositor. Credit union members have never lost a penny of insured savings at a federally insured credit union. Additional information on NCUA share insurance coverage for consumers is available at Mycreditunion.gov
 
Credit union members can calculate the amount of insured funds at a federally insured credit union using NCUA’s Share Insurance Estimator.The Estimator can be used for personal, business, or government accounts. Personal accounts include individual ownership, joint ownership, payable-on-death (accounts with named beneficiaries), living trusts, and IRAs. The Estimator also includes an Glossary of terms and Frequently asked questions.
 
For questions about the NCUA’s share insurance coverage, call 1.800.755.1030,
option 1, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern, or send an email to DCAmail.ncua.gov.
 
The NCUA is also reminding individuals to remain vigilant scams to the coronavirus. Cyber actors may send emails with malicious attachments or links to fraudulent websites to trick victims into revealing sensitive information or donating to fraudulent charities or causes. Exercise caution in handling any email with a COVID-19-related subject line, attachment, or hyperlink, and be wary of social media pleas, texts, or calls related to COVID-19. Visit NCUA’s Fraud prevention center information about frauds and scams, including how to report a scam.
 
NCUA is the independent federal agency created by the U.S. Congress to regulate, charter and supervise federal credit unions. With the backing of the full faith and credit of the United States, NCUA operates and manages the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund, insuring the deposits of account holders in all federal credit unions and the overwhelming majority of state-chartered credit unions. At Mycreditunion.gov, NCUA also educates the public on consumer protection and financial literacy issues.
 
"Protecting credit unions and the consumers who own them through effective regulation"
 
March 20, 2020
Coronavirus: 9 precautions you should take for your personal finances
Submitted by Jackson BolstadCUINSIGHT.COM
 
So, you’ve stocked your home with food and other daily essentials in preparation for being stuck at home. You even managed to fight off the hoard of desperate shoppers at your local grocery store to secure the last few rolls of toilet paper. At this point, you’re prepared to weather whatever coronavirus (COVID-19) throws your way. But is your wallet? 
 
With more and more restrictions going into place every day, it’s well past time you took a few precautions to protect your personal finances. Here are nine things to do over the next few days to prepare yourself and your wallet for any disruption to your paycheck, financial situation, or daily routine:
 
  • Get familiar with your credit union’s e-Services: In the event you can’t make it to your local credit union branch, you can stay on top of your finances by signing up for online banking and/or downloading your credit union’s mobile app. Conveniently deposit checks through the mobile app instead of in person at your local branch.
  • Automate payments or set up bill pay: If you haven’t already, consider automating the monthly payments for your utilities, internet, insurance, and any other regular bills. You should also set up online bill pay through your credit union if they offer the service.
  • Reduce your discretionary spending: Whether you have an emergency fund or not, you should start saving as much as you can. That means cutting back on non-essentials, including streaming services, shopping, and eating out. Even if you’re only saving $20; that’s $20 more dollars you’ll have if you end up not being paid for a few weeks.
  • Avoid making large purchases with your credit card: You definitely don’t want to be on the hook for a large purchase when you’re not getting paid. Instead, save those funds for any pressing needs that come up while stuck at home.
  • Aggressively pay down debt: If you have the financial ability, pay off your credit card, make multiple payments on your car loan, or even make an additional payment on your mortgage. In the event you’re without a paycheck for longer than you expect, this may bring you at least a modicum of relief. It will also help you avoid interest payments and late fees, which could impact your credit score.
  • Put that tax refund into your emergency fund: Expecting that tax refund in the mail? Instead of spending it, consider putting it into an emergency fund that you can use as needed during this turbulent time. You can always move or invest it later.
  • Subscribe to your credit union’s emails: As you read this, your credit union is likely developing a plan to assist and serve you in the event things take a turn for the worse. This could come in the form of extended contact center hours, skip-a-pay loan promotions, and more. Stay up-to-date on all your options by signing up to receive credit union emails, monitoring their website, and following them on social media. Join NHFCU's mailing list now.
 
  • Develop a plan for work: If your child’s school and/or daycare decides to close down, do you have an emergency plan in place? Whether it’s trading days off with your partner or enlisting the help of grandma, now’s the time to work out a plan that won’t force you to take valuable time off to be at home with the kids.
  • Scams: Be on high-alert for coronavirus-related scams! In particular, the Federal Trade Commission is warning consumers to be wary of phony emails and calls from coronavirus-related companies and charities. In addition to never giving any money to these fake organizations, be sure to never discuss your personal information, passwords, or PINs.
Taking a few precautions now can help you better prepare your finances for any implications from the coronavirus later. If you need additional assistance, don’t be afraid to reach out to your credit union’s personal finance experts for advice, resources, and more.
 
March 19, 2020
FTC & FDA: Warnings sent to sellers of scam Coronavirus treatments
Submitted by Colleen Tressler, Consumer Education Specialist, FTC
 
Last month, we cautioned you to be on the lookout for scammers taking advantage of fears surrounding the Coronavirus. Today, we have an update.

The FTC and FDA have jointly issued warning letters to seven sellers of unapproved and misbranded products, claiming they can treat or prevent the Coronavirus. The companies’ products include teas, essential oils, and colloidal silver. The FTC says the companies have no evidence to back up their claims — as required by law. The FDA says there are no approved vaccines, drugs or investigational products currently available to treat or prevent the virus.
The seven companies are:

  • Vital Silver
  • Aromatherapy Ltd.
  • N-ergetics
  • GuruNanda, LLC
  • Vivify Holistic Clinic
  • Herbal Amy LLC
  • The Jim Bakker Show
In part, the letters require the companies to notify the FTC within 48 hours of the specific actions they have taken to address the agency’s concerns. The FTC and FDA with follow up with companies that fail to make adequate corrections. Both agencies also will continue to monitor social media, online marketplaces and incoming complaints to help ensure that the companies do not continue to market fraudulent products under a different name or on another website.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says your best defense against the Coronavirus is to:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.
  • Avoid touching your face, especially your eyes, nose and mouth, with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you’re sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched items and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Follow CDC’s recommendations for using a facemask.
    • CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19.
    • Facemasks should be used by people who show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to others. The use of facemasks is also crucial for health workers and people who are taking care of someone in close settings (at home or in a health care facility).
 Stay informed. To learn more about the coronavirus, visit the CDC’s FAQ page. Visit the FDA to learn about the development and approval of treatments for coronavirus.

If you’re tempted to buy an unproven product or one with questionable claims, check with your doctor or other health care professional first.

Want more information on the latest scams we’re seeing? Sign up for our consumer alerts. See a product claiming to treat, cure or prevent Coronavirus? Report it to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.
 
March 18, 2020
Coronavirus: Scammers follow the headlines                                                                                                        Submitted by Colleen Tressler, Consumer Education Specialist, FTC

Scammers are taking advantage of fears surrounding the Coronavirus. They’re setting up websites to sell bogus products, and using fake emails, texts, and social media posts as a ruse to take your money and get your personal information.

 The emails and posts may be promoting awareness and prevention tips, and fake information about cases in your neighborhood. They also may be asking you to donate to victims, offering advice on unproven treatments, or contain malicious email attachments.
 Here are some tips to help you keep the scammers at bay:

  • Ignore online offers for vaccinations. If you see ads touting prevention, treatment, or cure claims for the Coronavirus, ask yourself: if there’s been a medical breakthrough, would you be hearing about it for the first time through an ad or sales pitch?
  • Do your homework when it comes to donations, whether through charities
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