Crisis criminals deserve special hell

David MoonBlog

A crisis brings out the good in people. In some people, that is. In others, it brings out their worst – whether it is elected officials in Washington selling their personal hotel stocks before Congress destroys the hotel industry or someone trying to hack into your bank account.

We recently had a client who was the target of a very sophisticated attempt at wire fraud – an attempt that included the perpetrator actually registering a domain name almost identical to that of an organization on which our client is a board member.

Would-be criminals are using people’s natural good intentions and desire for information as trojan horses and diversions to defraud even intelligent and sophisticated individuals. Here are some of the ways bad actors are using the pandemic in an attempt to steal your money.

Outbreak maps. Malicious actors have begun spreading malware through online maps claiming to track the impact of coronavirus. As users visit the sites or click the links, they are exposing usernames, passwords, credit card numbers, browsing history, or other nonpublic personal information that is then exploited by the attackers or sold to other criminals on the dark web. If you want to monitor an outbreak map, I suggest you only use the Johns Hopkins map.

Email campaigns. Criminals are also leveraging common forms of fraud like spam email campaigns, using infected attachments or downloads to gather information.

Phone calls. Criminals are masquerading as government officials attempting to get your bank account information, ostensibly to send your $1,000 pandemic relief payment. Hang up. These are thieves. The government will never call and ask for your bank account information.

Urgent requests for money. This is an old gambit, but a combination of student spring break travel and out-of-town grandchildren has prompted its return. Criminals will contact would-be victims, claiming to be a family member with whom you don’t regularly communicate. The “family member” claims to be stranded somewhere, and in need of immediate funds to be able to return home. If you aren’t certain you recognize someone’s voice, call another family member to verify.

Non-profit pleas. Criminals are impersonating non-profit organizations, claiming an urgent need for money. If you want to help a non-profit or other service organization, consider helping organizations with whom you already have a previous relationship, so you know they are legitimate.

When in doubt about anything, voice verify. Make sure that you are dealing with someone you know. Don’t click on unknown links in your emails.

By the way, a combination of checks/balances and common sense thwarted the cyber-thugs trying to steal money from our client. So, if something doesn’t feel right, don’t trust it. Verify it.

David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management. A version of this piece originally appeared in the USA TODAY NETWORK.