In early April, we noted that there has never been a crisis or emergency that criminals won’t try to exploit and we posted a roundup of fraud schemes: Be on your guard for coronavirus scammers, skimmers & phishers! It’s time to update that list. Criminals are only getting smarter and more sophisticated about capitalizing on our coronavirus fears and the way we’ve adjusted our lives. Here are reports on some of the newer scams that authorities are seeing, along with tips on how to avoid being victimized.
Cryptocurrency fraud schemes including blackmail attempts, work from home scams, paying for non-existent treatments or equipment, or investment scams.
Calls and e-mails from imposters claiming to be IRS and Treasury employees
Robocall scams selling PPE, face masks, or other medical devices
“Free” COVID-19 tests if you supply Medicare information
Fake charities seeking donations or your bank / credit card info.
Imposter calls promising CARES Act stimulus payments or demanding refunds for a supposed over payment
Fake websites and apps claiming to be associated with CARES Act programs.
FBI Says Increased Use of Mobile Banking Apps Could Lead to Exploitation Studies of US financial data indicate a 50% surge in mobile banking since the beginning of 2020. Additionally, studies show that 36% of Americans plan to use mobile tools to conduct banking activities, and 20% plan to visit branch locations less often. The FBI warns the public to be aware of fake banking apps and to be cautious about downloading apps on mobile devices that might contain banking-related malware. The FBI recommends only obtaining smartphone apps from trusted sources like official app stores or directly from bank websites. They also advise using Two-Factor Authentication and using strong passwords and good security.
FBI Sees Rise in Online Shopping Scam The FBI reports an increasing number of people are ordering goods online from fraudulent vendors and the goods are never relieved. Victims are being directed to fraudulent websites from ads on social media platforms and popular online search engines that offer lower than usual pricing on such items as gym equipment, small appliances, tools and furniture. Many of the websites used content and contact information copied from legitimate sites and posed as US companies. Here are some fraud indicators. Instead of .com, the fraudulent websites used the Internet site domain extensions of .club and .top. Most of the site URLs (addresses) were purchased in the last 6-months.
The FBI offers these tips to avoid being victimized
Do your homework on the retailer to ensure it is legitimate.
Check other websites regarding the company for reviews and complaints.
Check the contact details of the website on the “Contact Us” page, specifically the address, email, and phone number, to confirm whether the retailer is legitimate.
Be wary of online retailers offering goods at significantly discounted prices.
Be wary of online retailers who use a free email service instead of a company email address.
Don’t judge a company by their website; flashy websites can be set up and taken down quickly.
Monitoring and reporting fraud schemes
Check out the FBI Coronavirus website periodically for updated fraud scheme reports. If you think you are a victim of a scam or attempted fraud involving COVID-19, you can report it without leaving your home by calling the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721 or submit the NCDF Web Complaint Form.
During pregnancy, expectant mothers often have questions about the best way to stay safe while driving. Common questions include whether seat belts are safe, how to best position the steering wheel, and if airbags are safe or if they should be disabled. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to the rescue – they answer these and other questions in a downloadable quick guide: If You’re Pregnant: Seat Belt Recommendations for Drivers and Passengers
We’ve excerpted a few of the NHTSA graphics and compiled bullet points below.
Always wear a lap and shoulder belt when driving. It’s also important to wear seat belts if you are a passenger. AAA says that seat belts reduce traffic fatalities of front-seat passengers by 45%.
Put the belt below – not across – your belly. It should be snug across your hips and pelvic bones. Seat belt straps should never go directly across your stomach.
Don’t put the shoulder belt under your arm or behind your back – not only does wearing the shoulder belt help restrain you and prevent injuries in a collision, wearing it incorrectly could cause injuries in a collision.
Tighten belts to remove any slack. They should lie flat and fit snugly.
Airbags are designed to work with seat belts, not replace them.
Don’t disable airbags. Air bags reduce the risk of injury for expectant mothers and don’t increase the risk of injury for unborn babies.
Keep at least 10-12 inches of distance between you and the steering wheel.
As your belly grows, you may need to adjust the seat to sit as far back as you can while still reaching the pedals.
If the car has a tilt steering wheel, angle it toward your breastbone, not your head or your belly.
Avoid letting your belly touch the steering wheel.
AAA has a good related reference article: Car Safety Tips for Expecting and New Parents. In addition to tips for expectant mothers, they offer info for new parents on topics of shopping for a car seat, types of car seats, car seat installation, and registering your car seat to be notified of any recalls.
Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.
How do you protect your credit rating during the pandemic?
Worried about if the pandemic is affecting your credit? Here’s good news to help you monitor your credit status: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, the three major credit rating bureaus, are now offering free weekly online reports through April 2021. Normally, you are entitled to one report per year for free, so this is a great tool and it’s important that you take advantage of it.
Your credit report is a historical record of your credit activity and loan paying history. Lenders use this information when you look to open a credit card, borrow money to buy a house or a car, or take a loan for other purposes. Credit reports may affect your mortgage rates, credit card approvals, apartment requests, or even your job application. In some states, they can be a factor in your insurance premium. Reviewing your credit report helps you ensure that its accurate and may help you spot signs of identity theft early.
It’s particularly important that you review your reports now if the pandemic has caused any disruption in your finances or if you took advantage of any financial aid through the CARES Act, which allowed postponement of some federally backed mortgages and federal student loans through September 30. Your credit should not be affected by this, but Consumer Reports says that some people are experiencing problems. See: How to Protect Your Credit Score During the Coronavirus Pandemic
Last year was the fifth year in a row that 10 or more weather and climate disasters in the US logged at least $1 billion of associated losses. If you think 2020 threw everything it had at us and will now ease off, think again. While we all have our hands full with navigating the new realities of life under Covid19, nature is relentless and doesn’t slow down. Most Americans agree. According to a recent survey by American Institute of CPAs (AICPA), 61% or respondents said they were likely to be personally affected by a natural disaster in the next three to five years. Almost one in five said that prospect was highly likely. (see ThinkAdvisor: Few Americans financially prepared for a natural disaster: survey.)
Despite that, “… only 15% of respondents said they had created a disaster plan to protect their finances. Worse, 27% had not taken any steps at all to prepare for a natural disaster.” That’s rather daunting. Think about the problems and logistics in a hurricane, massive wildfire, or flood evacuation in the middle of a pandemic: public emergency resources are already strained. Plus, social distancing measures important to disease prevention will make things like finding emergency shelter and supplies even more challenging than normal at a time when many are suffering financial strain and economic strain from job loss.
Banking Without the Bank — If your bank branch is closed due to the pandemic, you may need some new options for accessing cash, depositing funds, and checking your account activity. Now is a good time to investigate alternative locations where you can use your ATM card to obtain cash without additional fees, and perhaps mobile banking which can allow most banking activities including check deposits and transfers between accounts.
Insurance Coverage — If you haven’t recently reviewed your coverage with your insurance agent, you’ll want to be sure your homeowner’s or renters insurance is up to date for changes in value, valuable items you’ve added like jewelry or watches, and special risks you may face like flooding. As a first step, be sure you know how to contact your agent, who may be working remotely or with a reduced staff under current conditions.
Safe Deposit Box — If you have documents in a safe deposit box that you may need after a disaster, you may find that your local bank branch is closed or operating under restrictions. You can check with the bank’s main office to learn how to access the box if local restrictions apply and may continue.
Wills, Powers of Attorney, and Health Care Proxies — If disaster results in incapacity, loss of a loved one, or serious injury, you’ll want to be sure that your legal paperwork is up to date. Your attorney may be working remotely under pandemic- related conditions. If your papers need an update, it pays to get a head start in contacting the professionals you will look to for help and advice.
Employment-Based Programs — Visiting your human resources department to check on items that may help you manage through financial survival in a disaster, like your disability coverage or ability to borrow from a 401(k) or similar retirement plan, is likely not an option if your workplace is closed due to the pandemic. You can take steps now to learn how to get the information you need, and request any needed updates, by phone or online.
Things are looking much more positive and festive in New England for July 4 than they were a month ago for Memorial Day, but Covid19 is still looming so we all still need to be safe and careful. We worked hard to bring our numbers down, but we can see from some other parts of the country, things can spiral downward quickly if we don’t keep our guard up.
But you can still celebrate and enjoy the holiday. We’ve gathered some ideas and guidelines for how to have fun this Fourth of July!
Vermont has a smart approach to those visiting the state. Residents of any county with less than 400 active cases of COVID-19 per one million residents are now eligible for quarantine-free leisure travel. The Agency will update the map each Friday identifying quarantine and non-quarantine counties throughout the Northeastern United States. See VT Cross State Travel Information.
They tell you how to enjoy televised NY fireworks, The Boston Pops and DC’s “A Capital Fourth.”
They suggest several patriotic virtual tours such as The Statue of Liberty, Philadelphia’s Independence National Historical Park and other historic sites.
They offer a list of patriotic streaming movies, including a live recording of Hamilton on DisneyPlus.
The Washington Post also lists some holiday-related events, among them some real-world events in the capitol region and some televised and online events holiday events, such as July 4 at the National Archives, Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts concerts, and an online ‘We the People’ Concert and Tribute at Washington National Cathedral, along with other virtual concerts.
Walking, Biking, and Hiking New England
Outdoor activities are among the safest things we can do. Fortunately, here in New England, we have beautiful scenery. Here are some suggestions:
New England Trail – a 215-mile hiking trail route running from Long Island Sound in CT to the MA/NH border. It has been in existence for over half a century. The NET travels through 41 communities in Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Amazing New England Hikes – Boston Magazine offers 55 hikes, from the bucolic fields of Middlesex Fells to the waterfalls of Maine. An interactive guide features everything from mapped locations to difficulty levels.
We’ve also summarized some tips for both hosts and guest that were suggested by various guides and health experts
Check in with invited guests in advance about any concerns they have. Let them know “the rules’ so they feel comfortable and will respect your wishes. For example, rules about social distancing, what they should bring (their own beverages) or shouldn’t bring (shared food dishes, unannounced guests) and any bathroom rules, such as flushing with seat down.
Respect boundaries if people decline an invitation. Don’t take things personally.
Know your local guidelines about gathering sizes, but all experts agree: smaller is safer – and likely more comfortable for your guests.
Maintain social distancing – measure the space on your deck or your yard in advance to see how many seats can be accommodated 6 feet apart and base guest numbers on that.
Keep it outside. Have a plan to postpone if the weather turns bad and keep an eye on the weather.
Wear masks when not eating.
Wash hands frequently, bring / supply hand sanitizer.
BYO beverage, or provide them in individual cans or bottles.
Avoid shared plates, utensils, seasonings or condiments – things that people handle repeatedly.
Use disposable plates, utensils, napkins and place at each seat.
Avoid shared food dishes and plates. Provide individual servings.
Clean and disinfect high-touch areas like doorknobs and bathrooms before, during and after the party.
In bathrooms, provide paper towels, hand soap on the sink, disinfecting wipes.
Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.
It’s National Lightning Safety Awareness Week. It’s good timing because July is the month with the most cloud-to-ground lightning strikes. According to the National Weather Service (NWS), four people have been killed by lightning so far this year. On average, 43 people died of lightning strikes each year over a 10-year period. Only about 10% of people who are struck by lightning are killed, leaving 90% with various degrees of disability. Your odds of being struck in a given year are about 1/1,222,000. Your odds of being struck in your lifetime if you live to be 80 are about 1/15,300.
From 2006 through 2019, 418 people were struck and killed by lightning in the United States.
2/3 of the deaths occurred to people engaged in outdoor leisure activities
Males accounted for 79% of all fatalities
Fishermen accounted for four times as many fatalities as golfers
Beach activities and camping each accounted for about twice as many deaths as golf
Of work-related activities, farming was most dangerous
Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Florida are the top four states with the highest recorded number of lightning strikes
Florida ranks first in lightning strike fatalities
1/3 of all lightning related injuries occur indoors
Lightning can have a range of up to 10 miles from the thunderstorm. It’s important to go inside at first sign of an approaching storm and to say inside up to 30 minutes after a storm has passed
NWS offers these tips about what you need to know to stay safe outdoors:
NO PLACE outside is safe when thunderstorms are in the area!!
If you hear thunder, lightning is close enough to strike you.
When you hear thunder, immediately move to safe shelter: a substantial building with electricity or plumbing or an enclosed, metal-topped vehicle with windows up.
Stay in safe shelter at least 30 minutes after you hear the last sound of thunder.
Last Resort Outdoor Risk Reduction Tips – If you are caught outside with no safe shelter anywhere nearby the following actions may reduce your risk:
Immediately get off elevated areas such as hills, mountain ridges or peaks
Never lie flat on the ground
Never shelter under an isolated tree
Never use a cliff or rocky overhang for shelter
Immediately get out and away from ponds, lakes and other bodies of water
Stay away from objects that conduct electricity (barbed wire fences, power lines, windmills, etc.)
For many years, the advice was to assume a crouch position if caught outside, but NWS stopped recommending the crouch in 2008 because it simply doesn’t provide significant protection
Indoor Lightning Safety
Some victims were struck inside homes or buildings while they were using electrical equipment or corded phones. Others were in contact with plumbing, outside doors, or window frames. Avoid contact with these electrical conductors when a thunderstorm.
Stay off corded phones, computers and other electrical equipment that put you in direct contact with electricity.
Avoid plumbing, including sinks, baths and faucets.
Stay away from windows and doors, and stay off porches.
Do not lie on concrete floors, and do not lean against concrete walls.
Lightning protection systems intercept lightning strikes and provide grounding path for dangerous electricity to discharge safely, leaving occupants and homes safe from harm
Panel box surge protective devices (SPDs) serve as the first line of defense against harmful home electrical surges, limiting voltages by diverting currents at the electrical service entrance. Only qualified electricians should install SPDs
Point of use surge protectors protect electronics plugged into the device from surges, must be replaced over time or after a major surge event
Power strips do not provide surge protection
No surge device can handle a direct lightning strike. Unplug sensitive electronics well before a storm to prevent damage