In honor of my Caught Dead in Wyoming mystery series, my assistant Kay Coyte is writing for my newsletter and blog a series of consumer tips inspired by TV reporter Elizabeth Danniher.
Last month I received an email that seemed innocent enough. It’s not unlike missives I get from people wanting to buy my house or sell me insurance. This one said I’d been approved for $37,000 in financial support because of my “recent application for hardship assistance.”
No, I’m not in need of hardship assistance. And, if I was, responding to this email would only compound my financial misery. I was one of thousands, maybe millions, who received the Financial Hardship Scam that started to circulate in early 2023. (The scam also was delivered via spam phone calls; you can hear it here.)
If you did apply for a loan or financial assistance, call your bank, credit union or assistance agency directly. They can confirm the status of your application.
In the email I received, I was asked to call back a number to complete an application. Which, of course, would then give the scammers my personal information. Other variations of the scam required you to open an attachment. Oddly, they all offered that specific $37,000 figure.
No matter how legitimate such an offer looks, do not click on any links within the email, open any attachments or call an included number. The attachments or links in these phishing emails likely contain malware, and interacting with that malware could infect your device or network, giving scammers access to protected applications and data.
If you even opened the email, it wouldn’t hurt to run malware-checking software right now. Might be a good time for a whole computer security scan, too. If you called the number (they varied, but usually started with the dodgy 833 or 855 area code) and provided financial information, contact your bank or credit card company immediately to report this possible theft. You may also want to place a credit freeze on your account.
One more thing: it’s good to monitor your accounts for any suspicious activity for the next several months. Scammers often hold on to — or sell via a black market — your personal information to hack into your accounts at a later date, when you might not be expecting it.