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Banks Urge Vigilance Amid Rise in Pandemic Scam Emails

Fraudsters are posing as health officials or charity workers in order to cheat people into handing over money

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Banks Urge Vigilance Amid Rise in Pandemic Scam Emails

Banks and other financial services organizations have warned customers to be alert to scams amid an increase in fraud attempts linked to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

USAA has moved to highlight ways in which fraudsters are attempting to exploit heightened health concerns to trick people into sending money.

“We are seeing coronavirus-related phishing attacks and we are seeing them at USAA,” said Michael Stewart, assistant vice president of information security at the bank. “We are seeing emails advertising alleged coronavirus-related benefits and others from a healthcare perspective.”

USAA said criminals have contacted people posing as members of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization, aiming to obtain personal information, selling fake test kits or offering non-existent vaccines.

It also warned against fraudsters asking for donations fake charities, selling cleaning supplies, and offering fake jobs.

The bank urged customers to use multi-factor authentication for their bank accounts, and stay vigilant to unsolicited contact by phone, email or text message.

In addition, customers should ensure they are using a secure wi-fi connection, USAA said.

During the past month, online sales worldwide increased dramatically as governments restricted movement in an effort to reduce the spread of the virus. According to analysis by payments firm ACI Worldwide, transaction volumes spiked by 74% in March compared to the same period last year.

However, the increase in activity has also led to a rise in fraud attempts, ACI Worldwide said.

Merchants were experiencing “dramatic increases” in phishing activity related to the pandemic, the payments firm reported.

“Fraudulent attempts are on the rise, and consumers must be vigilant as fraudsters are using the current situation to obtain and use their financial data and information,” said Debbie Guerra, executive vice president at ACI Worldwide.

The average value of attempted fraudulent purchases increased by 13% or $36 in March, ACI Worldwide found, driven largely by electronic and retail goods.

The payments firm urged online merchants to monitor their systems and update them regularly, using “business intelligence tools” and real-time monitoring to ensure efficient security.

Meanwhile, Mastercard has pledged $250 million over five years to support small businesses in the US and other markets with their online security. The money will fund free cyber vulnerability assessments and identity theft protection for the estimated 28 million small companies eligible for the US government’s Paycheck Protection Program.

“When our small businesses suffer our nation suffers, so it is incumbent upon all to ensure that we’re supporting the businesses who are the lifeblood of our economy and pillars of our communities,” said Michael Miebach, president of Mastercard.

“We are leveraging our network, insights, technology and partnerships to deliver the resources small business owners need now to help them sustain their business as they quickly adapt to a new way of operating and evolved customer needs.”

Mastercard said it would help small business owners get to grips with the vulnerabilities of their systems as they move quickly to serve customers online. The company said it would also offer identity theft protection for business owners and their employees to help navigate potential attacks.

The services will be offered at no cost for three months, Mastercard said.

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