COVID-19 Scams and the Elderly: Inspiring Savvy Seniors

By Laine Crosby

Coronavirus scams are becoming more ingenious every day. You may be aware of some of the pharming scams in the news lately where sites spoofing the World Health Organization or Johns Hopkins University are accessed through links that look like valid websites. These sites direct traffic to another site to capture personal information that can later be used to commit fraud and identity theft. They also install malware on your computer to gain access to all your information. 

But seniors are particularly vulnerable during the coronavirus crisis. Here are a few of the current scams targeting older Americans. When you create elder abuse training for your first line of defense—your tellers and bankers—be sure to include these, drawn from ABA’s free-to-share suite of coronavirus consumer resources: 

  • Phishing and supply scams. Scammers impersonate health organizations and businesses to gather personal and financial information or sell fake test kits, supplies, vaccines or cures for COVID-19. 
  • Stimulus check or economic relief scams. The government is preparing to ease the economic impact of the virus by sending money by check or direct deposit. However, the government will NOT ask for a fee to receive the funds, nor will they ask for your personal or account information. 
  • Charity scams. Fraudsters seek donations for illegitimate or non-existent organizations. 
  • Delivery of malware. Often through “virus-tracking apps” or sensationalized news reports. 
  • Provider scams. Scammers impersonate doctors and hospital staff, claim to have treated a relative or friend of the intended victim for COVID-19 and demand payment for treatment.
  • Bank/FDIC scams. Scammers impersonate FDIC or bank employees and falsely claim that banks are limiting access to deposits or that there are security issues with bank deposits.
  • Investment scams often styled as “research reports. Fraudsters claim that products or services of publicly traded companies can prevent, detect or cure COVID-19. 

Banker training is key to stopping scams 

Compliance professionals know that training is how the best organizations ensure consistent quality. If your bank does not have a program to educate older Americans on scams, now is the time. It’s a good idea to include the latest COVID-19 scams information on your website, in emails or communications to your older customers and on your bank’s app. Make sure your first line of defense knows: 

  • How to fill out suspicious activity reports. 
  • Where within your organization to report scams. 
  • When to contact law enforcement. 
  • What to tell your older customers.  

Since banks are considered essential businesses and have remained operational during the pandemic, you may see seniors continuing their branch banking activities. This is a good opportunity to educate bankers and seniors alike on these new pandemic-related scams and how to maintain a watchful eye. Safe-practices signage in branches is a good idea to have since customers are more germ conscious about handling collateral materials. 

Educating seniors is even more crucial in California, where banks cannot deny a customer’s access to funds, even for their own protection. Other states have protective rules, but in states such as California, the law is silent on what actions a bank may take with respect to suspected elder financial abuse.

ABA’s free Frontline Compliance Training courses for members include modules covering much of this content—including elder financial exploitation and information security red flags—for tellers and other frontline personnel.

10 tips for seniors

Your bank can start helping seniors by passing along these 10 tips to help them become aware of scams:

1. Watch out for phishing scams. Phishing scams use fraudulent emails, texts, phone calls and websites to trick users into disclosing private account or login information. Do not click on links or open any attachments or pop-up screens from sources you are not familiar with, and NEVER give your password, account number or PIN to anyone.

2. Ignore offers for a COVID-19 vaccine, cure or treatment.Any medical breakthrough will not be first reported through unsolicited emails or online ads.

3. Rely on official sources for the most up-to-date information on COVID-19. Visit the websites from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and your state’s health department to keep track of the latest developments.

4. Remember that the safest place for your money is in the bank. It’s physically secure and it’s federally insured. When you deposit your money at a bank, you get the comfort of knowing that your funds are secure and insured by the government. You don’t have the same level of protection when your money is outside the banking system.

5. Do some research before making a donation. Be wary of any business, charity or individual requesting COVID-19-related payments or donations in cash, by wire transfer, gift card or through the mail.

6. Keep your computers and mobile devices up to date.Using the latest security software, web browser and operating system is the best defense against viruses, malware and other online threats. Turn on automatic updates so you receive the newest fixes as they become available.

7. Recognize and avoid bogus website links. Cyber criminals embed malicious links to download malware onto devices or route users to bogus websites. Hover over suspicious links to view the actual URL where you will be routed. Fraudulent links are often disguised by simple changes in the URL. For example: www.ABC-Bank.com vs ABC_Bank.com.

8. Change your security settings to enable multi-factor authentication for accounts that support it. Multi-factor authentication—or MFA—is a second step to verify who you are, such as a text with a code.

9. Before you make any investments, remember the high potential for fraud right now. You should be wary of any company claiming the ability to prevent, detect or cure coronavirus. For information on how to avoid investment fraud, visit the website of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

10. Help others by reporting coronavirus scams. Visit the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov to report suspected or confirmed scams. You can also stay up-to-date on the latest scams by visiting the FTC’s coronavirus page atftc.gov/coronavirus.

ABA bank resources to keep seniors safe

ABA’s Safe Banking for Seniors program includes free turn-key resources for bankers, which banker training materials and customer handouts and infographics that can be used as branch signage. Additional tools can help seniors be aware of fake check scams, joint bank account requests, money mule scams, online dating scams, phishing and more.

ABA’s program also includes presentation lessons, participant activities, communications tools and promotional materials. You’ll find a free webinar on the top financial scams by generation, and a wide variety of other resources including a financial education training portal, state statutes and the DOJ (Department of Justice) initiative.

Laine Crosby is a marketing and financial services writer, a New York Times bestselling author and editor of ABA Bank Compliance magazine. Email: ababcmag@gmail.com.

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