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How to avoid Coronavirus/COVID-19 Scams

Some fraudsters are trying to exploit the coronavirus pandemic as an opportunity for financial crime by posing as trusted organizations like banks and even the World Health Organization. 

They may pretend to offer a safe haven for your money or medical guidance. They’ll then try to trick you into making a payment into a safe account, giving personal or financial information.

Typically, they’ll get in touch through: 

  • Phone calls
  • Emails
  • Texts
  • Social media posts 

Remember, HSBC will never ask you for any PINs or passwords, or to move money to a safe account.

What type of fraud are people experiencing?

 

US Treasury Economic Impact Payment (Stimulus) Scams

 

The Internal Revenue Service has a dedicated Coronavirus Tax Relief and Economic Impact Payments page that will answer many of your questions regarding how the stimulus payments will occur. They have also issued a warning regarding coronavirus-related scams. Many of these scams are attempting to gain your personal or financial account information.

 

Never share your personal or account information based on emails, text or social media.

 

Listed below are some of the common scams where criminals are contacting customers either by phone, email, text or social media and using the COVID-19 pandemic to gain access to your information and your funds. 

Unemployment Scams (Identity Theft) 

Criminals are filing for unemployment payments using victim’s personal identifiers that access their unemployment benefits. The criminal will direct the unemployment agency to deposit the funds into a fraudulent account. The fraudulent accounts are either opened in the victim’s name or accounts the criminal opened for this intent. Often times the accounts are opened by a money mule who may not fully understand that they are perpetrating a fraudulent act. Any notification of the use of your unemployment benefits should be reported to law enforcement and your local employment agency.

Contact Tracing (Phishing/Smishing/Vishing)

Criminals are contacting individuals indicating they may have been exposed to COVID-19. The criminal will then indicate they need your personal information, banking/financial account information in order to assist with testing etc. True contact tracing will not require your personal or banking information.

Fake Investment Scams (Spoofed Website)

Criminals are creating spoofed/fake websites offering investment products that they claim will provide high returns outside of the industry average. In many cases these websites will use a version of the bank’s name/website address/logo and sometimes even use business location addresses, employee names and pictures, to give a sense of validity to their high yield/return products. Remember when a deal seems too good to be true it usually is.

Phishing/Smishing/Vishing

Customers say they’re receiving scam emails/texts/calls about insurance and other COVID-19 topics in an effort to gain personal information including login usernames and passwords. Always exercise extreme caution when discussing your information and don’t share your information when people contact you.

Payment Fraud 

Criminals will try to get you to send them payments, for a variety of reasons. We’ve recently seen payment scams with payment references mentioning coronavirus or COVID-19. However, that doesn't necessarily mean the fake caller used the virus as a conversation starter. They may have used these words in the payment reference to make it look more genuine to us. Be cautious when sending money and talk to a trusted advisor before making payments to new organizations or recently made friends. 

Payment Diversion 

Some business customers are being targeted too. They're being invited to purchase “COVID-19 Insurance or Financial Assistance” as part of a scam. We have also seen some businesses being contacted by criminals impersonating their normal vendors and asking them to send money to a different account because their account is frozen by a foreign government or a variety of different excuses. In some cases, accounts payable teams have received fake messages from their own management directing them to create payments. Always validate any new or payment change information through a known and trusted contact number you have had on file for a period of time. 

Additional identified business targeted scams are located on the Federal Trade Commission communication.

There are examples of fraudulent sellers purporting to offer face masks and hand sanitizer for sale online and on social media. Be very cautious of businesses you haven’t purchased from in the past. Many criminals are starting pop up business to “sell” needed items. 

Fake Financial Assistance – Criminals are using the lure of the US Treasury Stimulus programs as a way to gain your attention and trust.

  • Criminals are identifying themselves as government agencies who need your personal information and/or your log on username and password. They claim that if you provide this data it will guarantee your stimulus payment or other financial assistance. 
  • They are also identifying themselves as agencies who can provide assistance in obtaining a stimulus payment or financial assistance. They may offer you a low fee for this service or even offer to advance you the funds and then provide you a fake payment.

Criminals are even mailing fake stimulus checks with instructions to contact a phone number or website to activate the fake check. When you contact them they will ask for your personal information and/or your log on username and password. In some cases, they will ask for your account number to cover an activation fee. They may even have you send them the fee after you negotiate the fake check.

School Closures 

Some parents have received fake emails telling them their child is entitled to free school meals. Parents are then asked to send their bank details so they can get help with funding while schools are closed. Please remember, schools will never ask for your bank details through email.

Digital banking at home

We know many of you are currently practicing social distancing. We recommend you use online and mobile banking. This means even if you’re self-isolating you can log on to: 

  • Manage your account
  • Make payments and transfers
  • Check your balance and more

By using online and mobile banking, you can help to keep our branch and phone banking services be available for the most vulnerable. If you're new to digital banking, rest assured your money and personal data is secure.

Beware of scams

The coronavirus has caused an increased amount of fraud scams targeting customers and their personal information as well as their funds. As with any major global issue criminals will prey upon the public’s concerns and anxiety. To protect yourself you can find additional information on our Protection from Fraud & Identity Theft page. 

HSBC will never contact you to request that you provide or verify your:

  • Full social security or account numbers
  • One-time password, account username or password
  • Answers to security questions over the phone 

Additionally, we recommend extreme caution when doing the following:

  • Buying hard to find items from previously unknown or recently established businesses
  • Making payments from your account to individuals or businesses with whom you don’t have a long term relationship
  • Making changes to account numbers you use to pay expenses based on communication that hasn’t been verified through an established contact method 

Never share your personal or financial information when you are contacted by an unverified third party. If you suspect wrongdoing, you can forward any phishing emails to the company, bank, or organization impersonated in the email.

What next? 

If you think you've been the victim of a coronavirus scam impacting your identity or your HSBC account, report it to us. You should also report suspected fraud schemes related to COVID-19 by calling the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) hotline (1-866-720-5721) or emailing the NCDF at disaster@leo.gov.

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