How consumers can combat the most prevalent fraud trends during COVID-19

Tips By April Payne September 28, 2020

A 2019 Better Business Bureau report found that the average dollar loss to scams together with the susceptibility of victims increased 24.3% between 2018 and 2019. While full 2020 figures are not yet available, there are strong indications the current COVID-19 environment poses an even greater risk to consumer protection as financial crimes spike in times of crisis. In fact, COVID-19 scams have already cost Americans more than $13.4 million since the beginning of 2020, according to The Federal Trade Commission.

Consumer fraud is an issue that impacts the entire financial services industry and while Western Union’s numbers are trending down, we take the issue of consumer protection very seriously. We care about people who use our services—they work hard for their money, which is why we work hard to educate them about various types of consumer fraud and how to help protect themselves.

While fraudsters are creative and far-reaching in how they approach vulnerable consumers, Western Union has identified the most prevalent fraud categories during this pandemic and outlined them below along with specific tips on how consumers can protect themselves. Awareness and education are some of the best tools we have in the fight against fraud.

Internet purchase scams

As family becomes more important than ever, consumers may find themselves browsing online for a furry friend to keep a distance learning child company or personal protective equipment (PPE) to keep loved ones safe.

This is exactly what online predators are capitalizing on and it is of the utmost importance to remain diligent while pursuing online purchases.

How to Stay Safe:

  • Never send money if the seller is asking you to put money down on your purchase via money transfer prior to receiving the item.
  • Always search through reputable, online companies to help deter against scams.
  • It is not advisable to use consumer to consumer money transfer services to fund an online purchase.

Emergency scams reaching a new level

COVID-19 scammers have upped their game when it comes to emergency scams and it is important for consumers to follow suit.

Scammers often prey on emotionally triggering topics to coax a money transfer out of their targets, and fear over COVID-19 has bolstered their toolboxes. Beware of the calls notifying you of family members in jail for disobeying social distancing guidelines or family members needing money for a respirator, etc.

How to Stay Safe:

  • Don’t fall victim to this trick by only sending money to people you know and have met in person.
  • Confirm with your loved one in question that this is indeed a real emergency before ever sending money.
  • Set up a secret phrase with your family and friends ahead of time to use in potential emergency situations.

Romance scams

With more and more people experiencing isolation over extended periods of time, scammers are increasing their efforts on online dating scams through the use of dating apps and online messaging services.

It is important for consumers to know the signs, whether they are actively looking for love or not.

How to Stay Safe:

  • Beware of the “sob story”. Scammers may pose as an exhausted hospital worker who just needs a shoulder to cry on, an over-worked front line worker who needs a break, an out of work parent who needs money for rent, etc. Remember, scammers often pull at your heart strings to get you to lay down your defenses over time. The sob story is typically followed by a request for money.
  • Overly flattering and intrusive messages. The scammer will often become too interested, too fast and hope that flattery masks their ill intentions. If it sounds too good to be true, it quite well could be. The flattery is often followed by a request for money.
  • Never provide your banking information to people or businesses you don’t know.  

Giveaway scams on social sites

Many scammers are posing as companies or individuals online and starting full blown fraudulent sweepstakes or giveaway scams on social media.

How to Stay Safe:

  • Watch for slight inconsistencies or spelling mistakes in posts, URLs, logos, email addresses, phishing emails, etc.
  • Contact a consumer protection group if you are uncertain or suspicious of a telephone, mail or email solicitation.
  • Don’t get swept up and provide information for winning a contest you didn’t enter.
  • Never send money to pay for taxes or fees on prize winnings.
  • Be wary of sweepstakes telling you to “act in a hurry”.
  • Never give your credit card, social security number or any other personal information in order to receive a prize.

At Western Union, we believe in empowering our customers in this rapidly changing world with information they need to stay safe in the fight against fraud. We will continue to vigorously protect our company and our valued customers who use our network to transfer money to family, friends and businesses.