Five Ways to Help Protect Your Family From Fraud in the Age of the Coronavirus

Follow these tips to avoid scams and protect your personal and financial information in today's increasingly digital world.

by Michael W. Brough - May 15, 2020

Almost all aspects of our lives are connected to the internet in some way. A 2019 report by the Pew Research Center found that more than a quarter of Americans said they were “almost constantly” online, with 81% using the Internet daily.1 And that was before the coronavirus pandemic, which has led to a surge in internet use because more people are working from home and going online to order groceries or get meals delivered.

But our always-connected nature can also pose risks: The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center averages more than 1,200 complaints a day; the center recorded $3.5 billion in victim losses in 2019.2 And that too was before the coronavirus pandemic, which has the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warning about a new wave of scams as imposters use fake texts, online offers, and solicitations that play on our fears and emotions.

The key to protecting yourself and your family? Stay informed—and vigilant by following these tips.

1. Learn to spot imposter scams

Have you ever received a call, text, or email purporting to be from your credit card provider regarding suspicious activity on your account? It could be a scammer trying to convince you to share sensitive information to enable access your accounts.

Imposters have also been known to spoof their caller ID or email address so it appears that they are a legitimate company. During these uncertain times, scammers are even impersonating the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO) and Internal Revenue Service (IRS),3 in order to prey on confusion around the coronavirus outbreak or get access to relief funds.

When in doubt, do not respond, click on links or open attachments. Instead, alert your provider to the suspicious communication. Follow the FTC’s advice on avoiding scams related to the coronavirus pandemic. And brush up on how to spot other common scams and cyber threats.

2. Manage and monitor your credit

If your data has been compromised through a security breach, consider placing a fraud alert on your credit file with the three major credit bureaus. The FTC’s website has more identity theft prevention tips and resources you can share with your family.

Make a habit of reviewing your and your family’s credit reports at least once a year. Look for unauthorized accounts that may have been opened in your names.

3. Limit what you share on social media

When stay-at-home orders began across the country because of the coronavirus outbreak, Facebook.com use increased by 27%.4 But don’t let convenience lead to complacency: Thieves scour social media profiles for clues to security questions, passwords, and other information that could help them impersonate potential victims online.

To protect yourself, first set your profiles to private—and encourage your family members to do the same. Also, restrict your social media contacts to people you know personally. Finally, be careful about what information you disclose. Sharing personal questionnaires on social media might be fun, but it also makes keywords about your life and private information more vulnerable.

Revealing too much personal information in your social profiles can put you at greater risk of identity theft, especially if your bank or other companies use that information to verify your identity.

4. Protect your accounts and your home network

Create strong passwords for online accounts and your home wireless network. Consider using a unique phrase with a mix of letters and numbers. Avoid using part of your email address or information shared on social media, such as the name of your pet, favorite movie, or anything else someone could easily guess. For your wireless router configuration, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security recommends choosing the Wi-Fi Protected Access 2 (WPA2) Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) setting—the strongest encryption option.

5. Stay up to date

Cybercriminals change their tactics frequently, so families should stay on top of the latest threats through sites like the FTC’s Scam Alerts and the Wells Fargo page on scams and cyberthreats. Be sure to work with your advisor and other financial providers to understand ways to protect yourself as you conduct financial business online.

1. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/07/25/americans-going-online-almost-constantly/
2. Internet Crime Complaint Center https://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx
3. CDC.gov: https://www.cdc.gov/media/phishing.html , WHO.int: https://www.who.int/about/communications/cyber-security, IRS.gov:https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/taxpayers-should-be-aware-of-coronavirus-related-scams
4. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/04/07/technology/coronavirus-internet-use.html

Michael W. Brough is a Texas-based writer whose work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, USA Today, and other outlets.

Additional Resources

Check out these four additional tips for staying secure while online.

Modeling good financial habits and talking with your kids about money can help them learn lifelong lessons in money management.