Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Coronavirus: Business and technology in a pandemic

Enterprises are getting more high-risk calls as fraudsters exploit COVID-19

Americans are being impacted by this fraud-filled crisis as bad actor activity escalates.

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Businesses across the US should be on high alert as COVID-19 scams increase across phone and online sites. The novel coronavirus can provide an opportunity for fraudsters to exploit online users.

Emails or online offers could advertise products that claim to reduce the risk of catching the virus or provide tests, treatments, or even cures. They might even be messages trying to update you on the coronavirus situation or offer a refund or product.

On March 16, many Americans started staying home to curb the spread of COVID-19. One immediate consequence of social distancing has been to strain enterprise contact centers.

New York-based call verification company Next Caller has been tracking what is happening inside some of the US's enterprises.  It has noticed that while there was a temporary wane in call volumes coming into call centers during the week of March 23 to March 30, call volumes and high-risk calls are on the rise.

Enterprises getting 30% more high-risk calls as fraudsters exploit COVID-19 worry and confusion zdnet

NextCaller

The number of high-risk calls spiked at almost 30% on average, and skewing even higher for financial institutions (up to 41%). It seems that fraudster activity is steadily escalating, exploiting COVID-19 to attack the enterprise and American businesses.

To supplement its own data, Next Caller studied over 1,000 Americans to see the impact that fraud is having on them as bad actors ratchet up their attacks. The findings show that almost one in three Americans (32%) say that they believe they have already been targeted by fraud or scams related to COVID-19.

People are scared and looking to protect themselves and their families, but they aren't just afraid of getting sick. On top of concerns over health, 52% of Americans say that they are more concerned about being victimized by fraud than they normally would be due to COVID-1- related fraud and scams.

Fraud schemes aimed at individuals include:

  • Fake stimulus checks that extract real bank account information
  • Change information on accounts to later drain cash, savings, or point balances
  • Sending physical checks and debit cards then stealing them out of the mailbox
  • Opening new lines of credit or securing loans on the individual's behalf
  • Creating new businesses using some of the individual's information

You might not know that you have been scammed. The phishing process uses familiar tactics to dupe people. However, the COVID-19 pandemic means that fraudsters can deploy techniques to gain the trust of unsuspecting or distraught individuals. 

These new schemes use phony websites, mobile apps, emails, phone calls, and mail pretending to be official communication from healthcare providers, insurance companies, financial institutions, religious groups, delivery services, and government agencies.

Once an individual takes the bait by opening a link or creating a login on a website, the fraudster can use the compromised information to advance the scheme elsewhere.

Next Caller CEO Ian Roncoroni said: "Contact centers don't stand a chance when criminals can successfully pose as customers. It's the perfect storm for fraud."

Advice from banks such as the Halifax in the UK is to be wary of any new emails containing links or attachments, take care when shopping online, and to make sure you are buying from a genuine site or seller.

Bad actors are seeing dollar signs as financial relief is on the way to Americans and their small businesses. COVID-19 and related events have made it more difficult for people to focus on taking steps to monitor or protect their own personal information.

Make sure you do not become another victim of fraudsters who are taking advantage of the current uncertainty to make you drop your guard.