Social isolation, greater use of technology and the flood of stimulus checks and government aid programs during the COVID-19 pandemic have led to a dramatic increase of people victimized by cybercrime and financial fraud. Fraud reports received by the Federal Trade Commission in 2020 increased by 24% over 2019’s figures, from 1.7 million to 2.1 million. More and more Americans many of them elderly, are increasingly falling for online and phone schemes perpetrated by criminals posing as financial institutions, online retailers, government agencies and charities. These scams fool them into providing their Social Security number or other personal information or convince them to click on links that open the door for hackers to take control of their computers and mobile devices. The best way to protect yourself against these scams is to be ever vigilant. No legitimate company or government agency will ever ask you to provide confidential information in an unsolicited phone call, text, or email message. Get in the habit of immediately deleting any suspect messages or hanging up on any suspicious callers. If you’re uncertain whether the request is legitimate, look for the institution’s or agency’s legitimate phone number online and contact them just to be sure. Or seek advice from a friend or family member. And if you become a victim of financial fraud or identity theft, immediately contact your credit card company, bank and other financial institutions to freeze or close your accounts. Even if you avoid being scammed, you can still report these attempts to federal agencies or your local police department to help others from becoming future victims.
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