Lately, witnessing the resolve that our communities and neighbors have demonstrated in stopping the spread of COVID-19 and helping those in need has reminded me of one of the reasons I became a community banker: the beauty of local citizens and small businesses. Unfortunately, I also have recently observed cybercriminals initiating scams to take advantage of people during the crisis. In fact, the FBI has warned Americans to be mindful of increased scams and fraud attacks right now.
We want to educate our communities and make sure you aware of the following increased scams:
Have you noticed a jump in prices on essential goods such as hand sanitizer or cleaning supplies or toilet paper? We all have, but we now have a way to take action and report it.
After the COVID-19 federal emergency declaration was made in March, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter announced that the Emergency Price Stabilization Act, or price gouging statute, is in effect. This means that because of the federal emergency declaration, increasing the price of goods more than 10% is not allowed. For more information about the price gouging statute or to file a complaint, you can contact the AG’s Consumer Protection Unit by phone (405) 521-2029 or email email@example.com.
Scammers are impersonating legitimate organizations such as The World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and more. They may request donations via immediate wire transfer or gift card, or ask you to verify or provide sensitive personal information. Here are scam alerts from each organization’s website:
- WHO (who.int): The only call for donations WHO has issued is the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund. Any other appeal for funding or donations that appears to be from WHO is not legitimate.
- CDC (cdc.gov): If you receive a call that appears to originate from the CDC on caller ID, be leery. And, if the person claiming to be from the CDC asks for a donation, it’s a scam. Federal agencies do not request donations from the general public.
The Bottom Line: Verify that the call is legitimate by visiting the organization’s website or calling them directly. Government agencies and nonprofit organizations won’t call to request your financial or personal information, including the Internal Revenue Service. You do not need to provide your bank account information to receive your Economic Impact Payment.
Fake COVID-19 Cures and Test Kits
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s website (fda.gov), “Because COVID-19 has never been seen in humans before, there are currently no vaccines to prevent or drugs to treat COVID-19 approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Some people and companies are trying to profit from this pandemic by selling unproven and illegally marketed products that make false claims, such as being effective against the coronavirus.”
Charity scams often emerge after national disasters, and COVID-19 is no different. In addition to impersonating organizations to solicit donations, scammers may make up a local charity and claim they are collecting money to help people impacted.
If you receive unsolicited messages from a charity seeking money, don’t donate right away. The Federal Trade Commission explains that “the surest sign of a scam is anyone who asks you to send cash, pay with a gift card, wire money, or pay with cryptocurrency.” The use of pressure tactics is another red flag. Legitimate charities have websites where you can make online donations. If you want to support relief efforts, do research first and choose organizations proactively instead of responding to outside solicitations.
The Securities and Exchange Commission updated its Feb. 4, 2020, Investor Alert on April 13, 2020, to warn Americans about investment frauds related to “claims that a company’s products or services will be used to help stop the coronavirus outbreak.” These scams tend to appear online and on social media platforms in the form of “research reports.” You can read the full alert at sec.gov/oiea/investor-alerts-and-bulletins/ia_coronavirus. Before making any new investments, check the SEC’s list of current Trading Suspensions connected to Coronavirus/COVID-19. This can be found by visiting the same link shared in this paragraph.
Phishing emails are one of the fraud schemes related to COVID-19 that have been on the rise lately. Scammers use phishing emails to try and steal your money, your personal information--or both. Be wary of email, text, or social media messages like the following:
- Verify your personal or bank account information to receive your Economic Impact Statement
- Make a charitable contribution via wire transfer, gift card, or cryptocurrency
- Travel refunds
- General financial relief
- Other scams mentioned above, such as fake cures, vaccines, or testing kits
- Links to websites and/or apps that claim to have relevant information about COVID-19
To protect yourself from phishing scams, practice good cyber habits, now and always. Hover over a link to review the URL before clicking. Contact organizations directly instead of responding to emails. Look for grammar or punctuation errors that signal a lack of professionalism. To that end, Armstrong Bank will never ask for personal information such as user ID, PIN, passwords, one-time passcodes, etc., via text, email, or unsolicited phone call. Security is always a top priority for us.
I hope having increased knowledge of what we at Armstrong Bank like to call COVID-19 criminals will help you spot any scammer who has targeted you or your family. The well-being of our neighbors is a priority to everyone at Armstrong. We are committed to keeping our communities safe and our customers’ resources secure in today’s “new normal” that our country and world are facing. We’re truly stronger together.
About Armstrong Bank
Since 1909, Armstrong Bank has been committed to building stronger communities and has been owned and operated by the Armstrong family for nearly 100 years. Today, Armstrong has 26 locations across Oklahoma and Arkansas, including five in central Oklahoma. Armstrong Bank proudly joined the communities of Norman, Noble and Oklahoma City in March of this year, after merging with sister bank Republic Bank & Trust. Transitioning Republic to Armstrong did not change any ownership or leadership and has allowed the combined financial institution and its unified bankers to better serve customers with improved technology and enhanced products. As a true community bank, Armstrong Bank is strong, well-positioned, and honored to serve its customers and neighbors.
Lifelong Norman resident Josh Edge is the Norman market president for the Central Oklahoma Region of Armstrong Bank. A graduate of the University of Oklahoma, Josh has been in banking for 12 years, with his expertise in business and real estate banking.