4. Celebrity impostor scams
Real celebs like Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber grabbed headlines during the pandemic with social media money giveaways. Fans posted their cash-transfer app identifier (or $Cashtag, in Cash App) for a chance at free money. Right away, scammers posing as celebrities started offering fake giveaways as a way to get people’s private information.
The scheme: You get a note via social media, email or text message, claiming you won! You just need to verify your account info and send a small deposit up front.
How to avoid: If you really win, you won’t be asked to send money first, says Satnam Narang of Tenable, a cybersecurity firm. “The easiest way to defeat this scam is to block incoming requests on your cash-transfer app. Remember: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
5. Online romance scams
They’re not just lurking on dating sites. “Romance scammers are getting close to unsuspecting women and men in online prayer groups and book groups, through online games like Words With Friends and other groups people are turning to during pandemic isolation,” Nofziger says.
The scheme: Scammers typically lure their romance marks off of sites that may be monitored and onto Google Hangouts, WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger, where no one’s watching. Eventually they hit you up for money.
How to avoid: Rule number one: Never send money to someone you’ve never met in person. And say no to requests for suggestive selfies and videos that a scammer can later use to blackmail you. “It’s flattering to be told you are attractive,” Nofziger says, “but it will be used against you.”
6. Medicare card scams
Scammers are emailing, calling and even knocking on doors, claiming to be from Medicare and offering all sorts of pandemic-related services if you “verify” your Medicare ID number.
The scheme: The offers include new cards they claim contain microchips. Some posers are asking for payment to move beneficiaries up in line for the COVID-19 vaccine.
How to avoid: Hang up the phone, shut the door, delete the email. According to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Medicare will never contact you without permission for your Medicare number or other personal information. And it will never call to sell you anything. Guard your Medicare number and never pay for a COVID vaccine. It’s free.
7. Peer-to-peer (P2P) payment scams
The rise of smartphone tools like CashApp, Venmo, Zelle and PayPal, which let you transfer money directly to another person, has led to a range of frauds.
The scheme: “One of the more pervasive is the so-called ‘accidental transfer of funds’ scam,” Narang says. “A scammer sends hundreds of dollars, then sends a follow-up message requesting the money back, claiming it was ‘an accident.’ “ But the original transfer was made with a stolen debit card; those funds will eventually be removed from your account. And you’re out the money.
How to avoid: Scrutinize money requests before hitting “accept.” To be extra diligent, “disable [or block] incoming requests altogether on your app and only use it for sending money,” Narang suggests. Enable it when someone you trust is about to send you cash. And ignore a notice to return an accidental deposit. Report the incident to the app’s support team to resolve the dispute.
8. Social Security scam calls
Scammers are using “spoofed” phone numbers that look like they’re coming from Washington, D.C., to appear credible.
The scheme: You get a scary phone call saying your Social Security number was used in a crime — and you’ll be arrested soon if you don’t send money to fix it. “They may say your number was used to rent a car where drugs were found and that the Drug Enforcement Agency is on their way to your house,” Nofziger says. “The caller may refer you to a local law-enforcement website where you can see the person’s picture. You think you’ve checked it out, call them back and send money.”
How to avoid: “Don’t pick up the phone unless you absolutely know who’s calling,” Nofziger says. “If it’s important, they’ll leave a voicemail.”
9. Account takeover scam texts
Scammers are sending fake text messages alleging there’s big trouble with your internet account, a credit card, bank account or shopping order on Amazon. They want you to click on links and provide personal info.
The scheme The urgent-sounding text message may have a real-looking logo. “People don’t expect scammers to use text messages, so they’re more likely to click,” Moore says.
How to avoid: Remember, don’t click on links in emails and texts that you haven’t asked for. Call your bank or credit card company to check for a problem. Installing security software on your computer and keeping it updated is also crucial, says cybersecurity expert Brian Payne, of Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia.