Your COVID-19 Financial Questions: Answered
Are you wondering how to keep your identity and finances safe during COVID-19? Are you concerned about virtual transactions and vulnerability? Unfortunately, scammers are still at work during the COVID-19 pandemic. There are ways that you can stay vigilant and protect yourself from harmful intentions. There are also programs that can help you protect your credit and limit your exposure to debt.
Scams: What to look for and next steps
Consumer scams will attempt to gain access to your personal information to open new accounts in your name or steal tax refunds. They can obtain this information through unauthorized credit and debit card use, abusive robocalls, door-to-door sales, and other unfair and deceptive practices. Scammers can even pass around the names and information of their victims to other scammers. Some of the common scams circulating during the COVID-19 pandemic are:
-Fake vaccine robocalls- Scammers will contact you to get you to purchase a vaccine for COVID-19. They may ask for payment, health, or personal information such as credit card numbers, social security numbers, and more.
-Testing kit offers- Scammers will contact you to get you to purchase a testing kit for COVID-19. They may ask for payment, health, or personal information such as credit card numbers, social security numbers, and more.
-Supplements and air filter systems- Scammers will contact you to get you to purchase special supplements promised to strengthen immunity to COVID-19. They may also try to sell a special air filtration system promised to provide you with clean, coronavirus-free air. They may ask for payment, health, or personal information such as credit card numbers, social security numbers, and more.
-Medicare bonuses- Scammers will contact you to tell you that you have special access to COVID-19 vaccines, testing, treatment, and prevention because of Medicare. They will likely ask for your Medicare information.
-Charity scams- Scammers may call and ask for charity donations through cash, gift cards, or money transfers.
-Errand helpers- Scammers may help with errands such as picking up groceries. Instead of delivering your purchased/requested items, they will leave with the money.
-Government imposters- Scammers will call asking for additional personal information like social security numbers, Medicare information, and more to help expedite your Economic Impact Payment.
So, with new and improved scams going around, how do you stay safe? As a general rule of thumb, say NO if anyone calls you to ask for personal information or account numbers especially if you don’t know them. Don’t rely on caller ID to identify who you’re talking to since the name can be spoofed by scammers. Recognizing the actual phone number can be more reliable. Similarly, if you do need to provide personal information or account numbers to make a payment or donation, do so through the organization’s direct, verified website or phone number.
It is also helpful to assume that your bank, government agencies, and trusted friends and family members already have the information they need to keep you safe. It is unlikely that a bank or government agency will “lose your information” and call you to verify passwords, account numbers, or personal information. They should already have your information on file, and if something were to happen to it, they should be able to provide you notice in writing. Actions and changes to your accounts will be initiated by you most of the time. If someone calls claiming to be a loved one in financial or legal trouble, consult other trusted friends, family members, and neighbors through familiar phone numbers to confirm that everything is okay. The Do Not Call Registry is a good way to cut down on scam calls to your phone number, but it is not foolproof.
You can also take action after your information is compromised. You can report scams and frauds to your local authorities through non-emergency numbers. They may also direct you to contact government agencies that will further investigate the complaints. For some scams, like equity theft scams, you can call legal aid and services for assistance. You can even freeze your credit or bank cards if necessary. For credit cards, unauthorized uses can be reported at any time. However, you must check your monthly statement and may be responsible for covering up to $50 worth of unauthorized charges. For debit cards, there can be a 60-day limit to dispute any unauthorized charges. The limit can be extended based on extenuating circumstances, like hospitalization. You may be responsible for up to $500 worth of unauthorized charges depending on what/when was stolen or lost. Finally, if you make a door-to-door purchase, you are legally entitled to a 3-day transaction cancellation period.
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Mortgage and Rent: Relief and protection options
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act provides temporary changes to different laws and rules, like procedures for early retirement withdrawal. You should check federal, state, and local laws for any pandemic-related updates. If you find yourself in more debt, know your rights under FDCPA. There should not be any unfair practices to collect. Settle your debt through a nonprofit credit counselor if you cannot negotiate yourself.
Until August 31st, the CARES Act offers relief options for homeowners with federally backed mortgages. You should ask for forbearance or hardship options. For example, forbearance allowance can provide a temporarily lower payment rate or a pause on payments altogether (payment differences or paused payments must still be paid later). Depending on the type of mortgage you have, you may pay a lump sum at the end of the term or repay paused and decreased payment differences over time. If you don’t have a federally backed mortgage, you may still have options from your servicer or state.
Beginning July 25th, the moratorium on evictions expired. However, it will likely be renewed in the next stimulus bill. This means that, while you still have to pay missed rent payments, landlords can help you determine a flexible repayment plan. Housing authorities can help you achieve lower rent rates for federally subsidized housing. Similarly, there should not be any late fees for failure to pay rent due to COVID-19.
To keep up with bills, contact lenders, loan services, and other creditors to explain your financial and employment situation, how much you can afford to pay, and when you will be able to restart normal payments. Ask if there are ways to waive fees or delay payments. Be sure to flag changes as COVID-19 related to protect your credit through the credit agency. It is also a good idea to get confirmation of any agreements in writing from lenders and be sure of the terms of agreement. You can access a free weekly credit report until April 2021 due to COVID-19 at https://www.annualcreditreport.com/index.action.
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