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  • The 2020 COVID-19 holiday season is upon us. This year, consumers should be on the lookout for job scamsgiving scamsgrandparent scams and online shopping scams, to name a few.  
  • If anyone comes across an unknown message regarding the COVID-19 holiday season, they should ignore it and go directly back to the source to confirm the message’s legitimacy. 
  • People should take steps to protect their personal information when shopping online, taking part in holiday gatherings (both in person or via a video platform), at the gas pump, and when receiving electronic gifts. 
  • To learn more, contact the Identity Theft Resource Center toll-free at 888.400.5530 or via live-chat on the company website.  

COVID-19 has changed the way people live. Many people are working from home, there are restrictions on what people can do in public, and many businesses remain shut down or open at a limited capacity. It has also changed the way scammers attack consumers. 

The 2020 holiday season will also be much different than year’s past. According to IBM’s latest U.S. Retail Index Report, COVID-19 has accelerated the shift away from physical stores to digital shopping by roughly five years. 

Criminals may adopt new tactics to take advantage of the pandemic, but what will not be different is scammers’ and identity thieves’ ability to find ways to strike.  

Watch for COVID-19 Holiday Scams   

Here are some scams to watch for this COVID-19 holiday season. 

1. Job Scams – Much of the economy remains shut down or open in a limited capacity. Millions of people are looking to gig economy jobs like Uber, Lyft and DoorDash to get by. People could rely on gig economy jobs even more during the holidays to make extra cash. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported losses of $134 million in 2019 to social media scams.

In the first half of 2020, the FTC already reported $117 million, with most scams coming from viewing an ad. Scammers may claim in advertisements that they can get shoppers access to premium jobs for the holidays with big tips in exchange for an upfront fee. Gig economy scams can also lead consumers to phishing websites that steal login credentials. 

2. Giving Scams – People typically give more to charities around the holiday season. However, with more families in need of help in 2020, we may see an even bigger increase in people making donations. Expect criminals to attack with giving scams, looking to steal people’s money and personal information. In fact, scammers have used giving scams to take advantage of people since the beginning of the pandemic.  

3. Grandparent Scams – Another popular holiday scam is the grandparent scam. A grandparent scam is where scammers claim a family member is in trouble and needs help. With the holidays here, scammers could pose as sick family members. 

4. Online Shopping Scams – Many more people will be shopping online this holiday season. According to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), 65 percent of people shopped online last year. This year, online shopping is expected to increase by 10 percent to 75 percent. With the increase in web traffic, consumers should be wary of messages claiming they have been locked out of their accounts. Scammers may send phishing emails making such claims while looking to steal usernames, passwords and account information.  

How to Protect Yourself from COVID-19 Holiday Scams 

While scammers will try to trick consumers, there are things people can do to protect themselves from a COVID-19 holiday scam. 

  • If someone comes across an ad for a job or a deal online that seems too good to be true, it probably is. Consumers should go back to the source directly by contacting the company to confirm the message’s validity. 
  • If someone receives an email, text message or phone call they are not expecting, ignore it. If any of the messages contain links, attachments or files, do not click or download them because they could have malware designed to steal people’s personal information or lead to a phishing attack. Again, consumers should reach out directly to who the caller, email sender or text message sender claimed to be or the company they claimed to be with.  
  • People should only donate to legitimate charities and organizations registered with their state.   Consumers can determine if a charity, non-profit or company is legitimate by searching for the charity’s charitable registration information on the Secretary of State’s website, looking for online reviews and Googling the entity with the word “scam” after it. 
  • No one should ever make a payment over the phone to someone they do not know or were not expecting to hear from. Scammers will try to trick people with robocalls to steal their sensitive information and commit identity theft. 

How to Protect Your Personally Identifiable Information (PII) This Holiday Season 

Identity Thieves will try different ways to steal people’s PII. It is crucial consumers can protect their PII during the holidays, and year-round, to make sure it does not end up in the hands of a criminal.  

1. At the Pump – More people will travel by car this year than usual. Travelers on the road should keep an eye out for gas station skimmers. Skimmers insert a thin film into the card reader or use a Bluetooth device at a gas pump to steals the card’s information that allows the thief to misuse the payment card account. If the pump looks tampered with, pay inside. Newer gas pumps use contactless technology and chipped payment cards that are very secure. Use those pumps if possible.  

2. Holiday Gatherings – It is always important to protect all personal information at holiday gatherings. While no one ever imagines a trusted friend or family member will go through their stuff, people fall victim every year. Keep wallets or purses with financial cards or I.D. cards within reach.  

3. Zoom and Other Online Video Platforms – Not all family gatherings will be in person in 2020 due to COVID-19. Some families will meet virtually via a video platform. When people use a video platform, it’s important they remember to secure the call by using strict privacy settings and not sharing any personal information with someone they don’t know.  

4. Shopping Online – With more people shopping online for the 2020 holiday season, people need to practice good cyber hygiene. Make sure to navigate directly to a retailer’s website rather than click on a link in an ad, email, text or social media post. Phishing schemes are very sophisticated these days and spotting a spoofed website of well-known and local brands can be difficult even for trained cybersecurity professionals. 

Consumers will still need to do their due diligence to ensure a business website is legitimate. There is inherently less risk of falling for a scam website by shopping at well-known retailers. It only takes a bit of homework to separate the scams from legitimate small online businesses. Using search terms like “Scam” or “Complaints” along with the website or company name can give people insight into the experience of other customers. 

When setting up a new online account, be sure to use multi-factor authentication. Multi-factor authentication creates a second layer of security to reduce the risk of a criminal taking over someone’s account. 

5. Electronic Gifts – With the advent of smart home devices, many gifts connect to the internet, presenting security risks. It is important consumers update the software on the device. It is also a good idea to have antivirus software installed on any computer, tablet or internet device if possible, along with a secure password on the home network router.  

For more information on how to stay safe during the COVID-19 holiday season contact the Identity Theft Resource Center toll-free at 888.400.5530 or live-chat with an identity theft advisor at no-cost.

For access to more resources, download the ITRC’s free ID Theft Help app.  


COVID-19 Could Lead to Increase in Travel Loyalty Account Takeover

Travel Safe with These Cybersecurity Protection Tips

Mystery Shopper Scams Resurface during COVID-19

  • Quick Response Codes, or QR Codes, continue to generally grow in popularity, especially due to COVID-19. Hackers are aware and are looking to possibly attack consumers with the digital barcodes. 
  • There have been attacks in India and Brussels in 2020. Malwarebytes reports the U.S. saw QR Code scams and attacks in 2019.   
  • To reduce their chance of a compromise, QR Code users should be somewhat skeptical when using one of the digital cubes. Look for things that might seem out of the ordinary – like asking for logins, passwords or payment information. Ask an employee if you encounter something you think is odd.  
  • For more information, contact the Identity Theft Resource Center toll-free at 888.400.5530 or by live-chat on the company website.  

Quick Response Codes, also known as QR Codes, have generally grown in popularity over the years. COVID-19 has sped the use, with an increasing number of businesses using QR Codes for contactless encounters and transactions. However, hackers are aware of the rise, which could mean QR Code security threats to consumers who use them. 

Waitress providing menu for restaurant goer through contactless QR code

What is a QR Code? 

QR Codes are digital barcodes often used for electronic tickets for travel or events, to view a restaurant’s menu, or to share product information at a retailer. They are a quick way to get people to websites, promotional codes and mobile payments.  

QR Code Security Threats 

The convenience of QR Codes comes with security risks too. According to a survey of consumers conducted by MobileIron, 71 percent of respondents could not tell the difference between a malicious QR Code and a legitimate one. Also, more than 51 percent of respondents did not have mobile security on their devices (or did not know if they did) to provide QR Code security in case of a QR Code-related attack.  

Attackers can take advantage of people’s trust in QR Codes by embedding malicious software into the digital cubes. MobileIron says they expect QR Code attacks to increase in the near future. The attacks would steal data from mobile devices or lead to phishing websites that could harvest credentials and other personal information.  

What You Can Do 

Attacks can lead to many different actions that range from inconvenient to malicious. This includes risky texts, emails, initiating a phone call, or adding a contact listing. However, there is one thing consumers can do to protect themselves: be skeptical.  

  • If you see what seems to be a QR Code physically pasted on top of another, ask an employee. The restaurant or retailer may have just updated their QR Code, but it could also be a sign of a malicious code. 
  • Before scanning the QR Code, check the website address of the code. Many phones will allow you to view the web address before you scan it. If you are unsure about the website, you can safely view the site by searching it by adding a “+” sign after the URL. You can also ask an employee about any suspicious website addresses. 
  • Only scan codes from trusted entities. The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) always tells consumers to use trusted entities when donating to a charity or shopping online because there is less risk. The same advice applies to QR Codes. A trusted entity will be less likely to have a malicious QR code on a restaurant menu, plane ticket or promotional code. 

Contact the ITRC 

Consumers need to be aware of QR Code security threats. The more people protect themselves, the harder it will be for identity thieves to succeed in hacking people using QR Codes. If you would like to learn more or believe you have been a victim of a QR Code attack, contact the ITRC toll-free at 888.400.5530 or on the company website via live-chat.  


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  • Election scams are beginning to appear, prompting the FBI and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) to warn consumers that spoofed internet domains and email accounts pose cyber and disinformation risks to voters. 
  • Scammers are also looking to trick voters by mimicking ballot-tracking text services
  • Identity thieves are seeking many different forms of personally identifiable information (PII), looking to commit malware attacks, and creating fake websites to collect PII or spread false or misleading information. 
  • Consumers should never share PII, respond to any unexpected messages until they have verified the website address, email address or text message link by checking with the legitimate source.  
  • For more information, or if you fell victim to an election scam, reach out to the Identity Theft Resource Center toll-free at 888.400.5530 or on our website via live-chat.  

The general election is less than one month away, and scammers are aware. Multiple voting organizations are expressing concerns over fake election-related websites that look like official voting resources, but contain false or misleading information, as well as phishing emails that are designed to gather personally identifiable information (PII) or spread malware. Some states are also seeing scammers trying to trick voters with phony text messages, like in California, where they mimic ballot-tracking text services. The FBI and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) want to help people spot and avoid every form of election scam.  

Who It Is Targeting 

Voters; Online device users 

What It Is 

Scammers are using many different tactics to try to trick voters: 

  • They create fake election-related websites to spread misinformation, confuse people, or trick voters into sharing personal information ahead of the November 3 elections. According to the FBI and CISA, election scams around fake websites aim to mislead voters and try to use interest around voting to steal people’s passwords. Scammers create websites that try to imitate election websites by altering one or two letters in the site’s address.  
  • Another election scam the FBI and CISA want people to be aware of is phishing emails. Scammers email voters from spoofed addresses that appear to come from election officials.  
  • Scammers are using text messages to attack, too. Some text messages claim they are from the United States Postal Service (USPS). Others look like they are from the Registrar of Voters asking consumers to take a survey or re-register to vote. Some even offer prizes for voting or registering to vote. 

What They Are After 

“There’s risk to you personally,” James Lee, Chief Operating Officer of the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC), told NBC 7 San Diego in an interview. “And in this case, because we’re talking about an election, there’s risk to our society. There’s risk to our country.” 

All of these election scams try to steal usernames, passwords or email addresses. They lead to the collection of PII and spread malware, leading to the potential of more compromises and financial losses in the future. 

What You Can Do 

  • Verify the spelling of all websites, email addresses or links in text messages. Make sure domains consist of http or https at the beginning of the domain, and .gov at the end if it is a government website. 
  • If you receive an unexpected or unsolicited email or text message, ignore it and do not click on any links. Go directly to the source to verify the validity of the message. 
  • Find election information from trustworthy websites, like the Election Assistance Commission.  
  • Make sure all of your applications are up-to-date and update your anti-virus and anti-malware systems. 
  • If possible, use two-factor authentication (2FA) on your accounts.  
  • Disable or remove unneeded applications from your devices. 

If you believe you are a victim of an election scam or want to learn more, contact the ITRC to speak with an expert advisor toll-free at 888.400.5530. You can also live-chat with us on our company website. 

There are different types of data breaches, but they all have frustrating, as well as potentially devastating impacts. On this week’s Weekly Breach Breakdown podcast, we are taking a look at the difference between a data breach that exposes consumer information and a data breach that reveals a company’s intellectual property or trade secrets; companies attacked by ransomware that do both is on the rise.

A Tale of Two Breaches

The current digital age can be viewed as the best of times and the worst of times, especially when it comes to data use, privacy and security. While many consumers enjoy unprecedented levels of convenience and prosperity, thanks to technology, there are also significant pitfalls. Despite billions of dollars in cybersecurity investments, personal and corporate information is exposed daily due to malicious and accidental events.

While many people view data breaches as personal information being stolen from companies about individuals, it is becoming more common for threat actors to target more than consumer data. Instead, many hackers are looking to get their hands on company secrets by landing a successful ransomware attack, leading to the company’s intellectual property being breached.

By August 15, more than 25 Fortune 500 companies were attacked by ransomware, where company intellectual property was at risk.

Nintendo

In July, the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) posted about an attack on Nintendo, who refused to pay the data kidnappers’ ransom demands. As a result, the data thieves posted massive amounts of proprietary data on the internet, including game prototypes. At the time of the attack, it was believed to be a one-off. However, within days, two more global organizations found their company data being posted on the web for everyone to see after refusing to pay ransomware demands.

LG

Electronics and appliance manufacturer, LG, found source code for their mobile phones and laptops posted on a ransomware site. The ransomware group, Maze, released a statement that said they did not want to disrupt LG’s customers as part of the company’s data breach, so they opted to release the stolen intellectual property publicly rather than shut down LG’s systems.

Xerox

At Xerox, a digital document product company, information was released after the company refused to pay a ransom demand that involved customer service systems, but not customer information.

Carnival Cruise Lines & Jack Daniels

Just last week, household names like Carnival Cruise Lines and the makers of Jack Daniels Whiskey joined the list. In the case of Jack Daniels, the company claimed the attack was blocked. However, the attackers claim they were successful and threatened to release the data they stole.

Why the sudden increase in companies attacked by ransomware?

While there are multiple reasons why a company might fall prey to a ransomware attack, the new variable in the equation is people working from home as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. A survey released this week by the security firm Malwarebytes indicates that companies are seeing more attempted, and successful, attacks aimed at exploiting the weaker security that is usually associated with remote workers.

The research spotlights why there is an increase in companies attacked by ransomware:

  • 20 percent of respondents have faced a security breach as a result of a remote worker
  • 24 percent have spent unbudgeted money to resolve a security breach or malware attack
  • 28 percent admit to using personal devices for work more than their company devices, which could open the door to cyberattacks
  • 18 percent say cybersecurity is not just a priority for their employees

If employees are working from home or managing a team of remote workers, they should make sure they are following best practices for protecting their personal information and company data. Anyone needing more information about how to protect their work information should ask their company’s IT security team or contact the ITRC for tips on how to protect their personal information.

notifiedTM

For more information about the latest data breaches, consumers and businesses should visit the ITRC’s new data breach tracking tool, notified.  It is updated daily and free to consumers. Organizations that need comprehensive breach information for business planning or due diligence can access as many as 90 data points through one of the three paid notified subscriptions. Subscriptions help ensure the ITRC’s identity crime services stay free.

If someone believes they are the victim of an identity crime, or their identity has been compromised in a data breach, they can speak with an ITRC expert advisor on the website via livechat, or by calling toll-free at 888.400.5530. Finally, victims of a data breach can download the free ID Theft Help app to access advisors, resources, a case log and much more.

Join us on our weekly data breach podcast to get the latest perspectives on the last week in breaches. Subscribe to get it delivered on your preferred podcast platform.


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