HILLSDALE - Americans are spending more time at home, which means they’re likely spending more time online.
Experts say while attention is focused on staying healthy, people shouldn’t forget to stay vigilant about cybersecurity either.
The FBI recently warned that cybercriminals are taking advantage of the current environment to steal personal information and money. The scams come in various forms, including fake emails from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization claiming to offer new information on the virus; emails asking users to verify personal information for an economic stimulus check from the government; and emails selling counterfeit COVID-19 related products or treatments.
Hillsdale County Sheriff Tim Parker urges local residents to be cautious of the most recent text messaging, phone and email scams.
Parker said offenders creating these phone scams are using local phone numbers in an attempt to get more residents to answer their phone.
"I've also seen an increase in text messaging coming through emails," Parker said. "People are using Facebook contacts and sending messages."
Parker said lots of people attempt to steal personal information in this manner since most have electronic means to do so these days.
"It's not like in years past when someone might beat down your door and come into your home to do so," he said. "All they need to do is send a link. Be careful not to open these unless you know the person. If you did not send a message or communicate with them, do not open it."
Parker said this goes the same for a social security number. He reminds residents “do not” ever give out your personal information or bank account information over the phone or online in any way.
"Don't give the last four digits because all they have to do is find out the rest of it," he said.
No court, law enforcement or government entity will ever text you, call you or email you to tell you that you owe them money or that there is a warrant for your arrest and demand money from you immediately.
“Do not ever give anyone money over the phone or online,” he said. “If you have doubt that the text, phone call or email might be a scam. it more than likely is. Just delete it.”
StatePoint Media says personal health information can also be a target for hackers.
According to the Office of the Inspector General, personal health information (name, social security number, Medicare number) can be stolen and used to file false Medicare or other health insurance claims. If this occurs, individuals might experience a disruption in medical care should they need it.
Bob Davis, deputy chief information security officer, Cigna, has a few simple steps to protect individuals and families from threats, backing up what Parker has previously reviewed.
Never open email or attachments from unknown senders. Many scams occur when clicking on fraudulent links or attachments in emails. Sometimes these emails can look similar to those received from legitimate sources, such as a health insurer, making it difficult to notice the difference. Pay attention to details: does it look like other valid communications you’ve received? Is the sender email address correct? To check a link’s legitimacy, hover over the text to see where it will redirect.
Also note, when communicating with health insurers online, it will likely be done through a secure email portal, which automatically encrypts (secures) emails and can only be accessed by signing in using a pre-determined password.
Guard personal information. As a general rule, health insurers will never ask for credit card information or account passwords in an email. Report emails asking for this information to your health insurance company immediately.
Hang up and call back. Not all threats occur online. Be wary of phone calls from someone claiming to be your health insurance company asking for personal information. To confirm legitimacy, simply hang up and call the customer service phone number listed on the back of the insurance card. In most cases, if information or payment is needed, individuals will receive a letter in the mail, not a phone call.
Monitor texts and social media. Many use cell phones as a primary way to communicate, so it should be no surprise that cybercriminals are turning to text messages as a way to steal information. Text messages should be approached the same way as emails. Don’t click on links or share information with unfamiliar numbers. Same goes for social media. Don’t click on suspicious advertisements or links.
Remind friends and family. Just like friends and family are reminded to stay healthy, the same should be done with cybersecurity threats. Remind loved ones, especially the elderly, to pay close attention to unsolicited emails and calls, and to limit the information they share over the internet. If seniors think that they may have been victim of a scam, they should contact Medicare as soon as possible at 1-800-MEDICARE.