Tom Kocanda is an enterprise security education consultant at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska. In his role, he helps employees learn how to stay safe online.

Cyber criminals continue to use the COVID-19 pandemic as a vehicle to cash in, using fear and confusion to trick people out of money and personal information. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), as of mid-December 2020, Nebraskans are out more than $350,000 as a result of pandemic-related fraud, with the median monetary loss being about $200 per victim.

As we make our way through the holiday season, vaccines are being approved, distribution is starting—and bad guys are hopping on board the headlines.

The FTC offers three key ways to help you spot a COVID-19 vaccine scam:

  • You can’t pay to put your name on a list to get the vaccine.
  • You can’t pay to get early access to the vaccine.
  • No legitimate agency will call about the vaccine and ask for your personal information, such as your Social Security, bank account or credit card number.

Contact tracing scams are also on the rise as more and more communities work to build a contact tracing infrastructure. As legitimate contact tracers work to help track the virus, some scammers are posing as contact tracing workers. The FTC says this is how to spot a scammer who claims to be a contact tracer:

  • Real tracers won’t ask you for money.
  • Contact tracing doesn’t require your bank account or credit card number.
  • Legitimate contact tracers will not ask for your Social Security number.
  • Your immigration status doesn’t matter for contact tracing, so real tracers won’t ask.

The FTC encourages the public to report any potential scams or fraud to

Remember that no matter the topic, scammers will try to exploit one of these five common human behaviors in order to trick you:

  1. Your attitude of trust.
  2. An appeal to authority.
  3. Your desire to be helpful.
  4. Your fear or confusion.
  5. Your enthusiasm for free rewards.

If you get a message that is strongly appealing to one or more of these behaviors, be sure to stop, think and determine if what you’re reading (or hearing) could be a scam. If in doubt, don’t take any further action—delete the message or hang up the phone.

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