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GARY OWEN: Steer clear of COVID-19 scams with some helpful tips

The coronavirus has put a financial strain on many families and businesses. The government, financial institutions and other organizations are rallying to support those in need. As more support is offered to Americans and businesses that are struggling financially, the threat of fraud is increasing.

It is important for consumers and business owners to pay close attention to any communication they receive regarding COVID-19, especially as it relates to financial assistance. Recognizing scams and knowing how to avoid them will help protect you from fraud.

Wells Fargo is proactively advancing our security, and the company continues to invest in account safety measures and customer education to help consumers and businesses during this time. Here are a few tips that can help keep your accounts and information secure.

Watch out for schemes tied to economic impact payments

The IRS will not call, email, or text you asking to verify or provide your financial information to get your stimulus checks faster. If you receive an unexpected request that appears to be from the IRS, do not respond, click on links or open attachments.

Also, be suspicious of any communication from an organization that claims it can help put a rush on your payment.

To learn more about economic impact payments, including eligibility and payment amounts, visit IRS.gov/coronavirus.

Beware of unexpected requests and offers for financial assistance

Look out for emails and text messages that include an urgent request for you to update your information, verify your identity or take advantage of a special offer. Fraudulent financial aid and loan offers are also common on social media. You may be prompted to call a phone number, sign on to a spoofed website, or respond with personal or account information.

Be sure to look closely at the email address or text message for any COVID-19 communication you receive. On the surface, it may appear to be from a reputable or trusted source like your financial institution or a major nonprofit, but if the sender’s email domain looks different from other communications (e.g. “wells-fargo.info” instead of “wellsfargo.com”), then it could be a scam. For text messages, be cautious when receiving a text from an unknown phone number.

Text scams may contain unusual language or text treatments, ID numbers, all caps or punctuation like exclamation points.

If you receive a suspicious request that appears to be from your bank or other legitimate company, do not respond, click on links or open attachments. Call the number on the company’s website or the back of your debit or credit card to verify the request.

Verify a company or charity before opening your wallet

Other popular schemes include medical supply scams and fraudulent donation sites that impersonate a company, charity, or government agency to convince you to make purchases or donations on spoofed websites or do business with a phony vendor. Do your research to help ensure you are working with a legitimate vendor or organization.

Running a small business? Take note of these additional tips

First, be sure to reconcile accounts daily to detect suspicious activity.

Make sure to verify all account changes, including changes to payment instructions from vendors. If you receive a request to change payment details such as bank account or invoice information, verify the request using a different method of contact to make sure it’s authentic.

For example, if the vendor contacts you by email, confirm the information by phone. Be sure to use the information you have for the contact on file, not the contact information contained in the request you received.

If you detect it, report it

For suspicious requests that claim to be from Wells Fargo: forward the email or send an email with the text message copy (no screenshots) to reportphish@wellsfargo.com.

You also can report scams to the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov/complaint

Gary Owen is Chief Information Security Officer for Wells Fargo Bank.

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