The Market Place

Swindlers are taking advantage of the global health crisis, so watch out for email phishing, robocalls and “smishing”—text-message scams sent to your phone.
A text comes in on your phone.It’s from the IRS, and your economic relief check is ready, pending your acceptance. There’s a form to fill out. All you have to do is click the link.

If you don’t have time to read this whole column, please—for the love of sweatpants—just read this: Don’t. Click. The. Link.

Scams are on the rise. The Federal Trade Commission has already received more than 14,000 coronavirus-related complaints, reporting $10 million in total losses, since Jan. 1. On March 20, the Federal Bureau of Investigation issued a warning about a rise in fraud schemes and urged “vigilance” during the pandemic.

Circulating schemes involve stimulus checks, airline refunds, charities, fines for breaking social-distancing rules, “mandatory” Covid-19 preparedness tests, unproven treatments and sales of in-demand supplies like masks or thermometers. Experts say the scams are designed to get you to take immediate action, more and more through texts and calls.

“The stress people are under during the pandemic opens up whole new emotional avenues for attackers to prey on,” says Chris Rothe, co-founder of security-threat-response firm Red Canary.

Typically, older adults are targeted by scammers because they often have more wealth. But recent research by AARP shows that all age groups are vulnerable to phishing attempts. That’s because shelter-in-place rules are keeping more people at home, where they are more likely to pay attention to urgent messages.

“We’re a captive audience at home. I find myself picking up my phone more often. We’re all in this high-emotion state.…I think maybe it’s a family member or a neighbor that needs help,” says Amy Nofziger, director of AARP’s Fraud Watch Network.

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