Scammers are using COVID-19 to steal your personal information. These scams have taken many forms, including phishing e-mails that appear to come from the World Health Organization. They try to extract your information by requiring you to log in to this fake alert.

WHO has responded that it never requires a log in to access information.

There have been several scams associated with contract tracing. One scam reported prompted a television station to run a test. The station contacted friends of a co-worker and told them they had been exposed to the virus. They asked the individuals to provide a date of birth to verify their identity. If they provided that, they were asked for their Social Security number.

Many people provided all of this information. They were then told this was an experiment and no contract tracer would ever ask these questions. People were surprised how easily they gave up this information.

Scammers are very good at sounding legitimate. People let down their guard when they believe something serious, like being exposed to the coronavirus. You must be careful all of the time.

Many people have gotten calls from individuals claiming to be with the Internal Revenue Service. They say you owe taxes and must send in prepaid debit cards right away or you will be arrested.

The IRS does not contact people by telephone, but sends a series of letters about its concerns. Police do not arrest anyone for the IRS, which will never ask to be paid in prepaid debit cards, and you will not be going to jail for a late payment.

Yet these scams work, because criminals keep using them.

There is another one in which a caller claims to be from the Social Security Administration, and that it has noticed some fraudulent activity on your SS account. If you do not call immediately, the administration is going to stop your SS checks.

This is a scam. Crooks can use official-looking logos and telephone numbers to try to steal your money.

I have gotten a number of emails from different banks claiming there is a problem with my account. The real problem is I do not have an account at these banks. If the scammers get lucky, they may guess my real bank or some people are just hoping they have a bank account they do not know about. Be careful.

I also have received bogus emails from a company claiming to be “windows defender.” It claims my subscription is about to end and it will be charging me $299 soon. I should click on the email if I want to discontinue. I have never had this service and it is an easy possibility that someone owns a windows device. Be careful.

I also know someone whose Pay Pal account has been hacked. Thousands of dollars have been pulled out of his checking account through the debit card attached to Pay Pal.

While he probably will recover this money, I always suggest that you use a credit card instead of a debit card when shopping on line. Both types of payment options often have similar consumer protection, but if an incident has to be resolved, it is the bank’s money that is tied up, not yours.

You must be on guard all of the time. Protect your information and it will save a lot of frustration later.

Gary Boatman is a Monessen-based certified financial planner and the author of “Your Financial Compass: Safe passage through the turbulent waters of taxes, income planning and market volatility.”

To submit columns on financial planning or investing, email Rick Shrum at rshrum@observer-reporter.com.

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