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4 COVID-19 Financial Scams That Target Gen Z

Samantha Rose
Samantha Rose is a personal finance writer covering financial literacy for OppU. Her work focuses on providing hands-on resources for high school and college-age students in addition to their parents and educators.
Read time: 4 min
Updated on June 27, 2022
man with glasses looking through a magnifying glass to see 4 COVID-19 financial scams that target Gen Z
Scams are on the rise, and Gen Z is under attack.

With schools closed and shelter-in-place orders issued around the country, many Americans are staying home and spending more time online. But beware. Cyber scams are on the rise, and they’re targeting anyone they can find.

Including Gen Z.

Young people are well-acquainted with technology, but this can create a false sense of security. Financial fraud. Identity theft. Click on the wrong link and anyone can take a hit.

To help protect themselves, young people should know what to watch for. Here are four COVID-19 financial scams targeting Gen Z — and some tips to avoid them.

No. 1: Faux financial aid

It’s college decision season. That means prospective students and their families are anticipating acceptance letters — and financial aid packages.

But some of them might be scams.

“Be wary of emails stating your [student] loans were approved,” said Frankie Fegurgur, the COO of United Educators Financial Association. “Or that you’ll need to pay a processing fee in advance of receiving your loans.”

Scammers use a number of tactics to take advantage of students in search of financial aid. Common ones include:

  • Spreading malware with attachments or links.
  • Collecting private information with fake surveys.
  • Requesting fraudulent payments.

So exercise caution and follow a few basic guidelines:

  • Don’t download suspicious attachments or click on links.
  • Don’t send sensitive information without verifying the recipient.
  • Don’t make payments without verifying the identity of who you’re paying.

No. 2: Online disguises

A fake identity is easier to pull off online than in real life. And scammers use this tactic time and again. One common disguise?

A fraudulent email address.

“Scammers are investing a lot of time and effort into appearing as legitimate as possible,” said Kofi Arhin, a Ph.D. student in the Lally School of Management at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Scammers can make an email appear as if it’s coming from a student’s school. They then might request a payment, or ask for personal information to commit identity theft.

Many schools offer free cybersecurity tips and resources. Students should take advantage of them by visiting their campus IT department’s homepage or reaching out by email.

No. 3: Fake checks

The first round of economic stimulus checks went out in mid-April. For many, the money comes as much-needed financial relief. But for scammers, it’s an opportunity.

Allie Fleder, COO of the financial education company SimplyWise, said she’s heard from users who have been targeted.

“A lot of our users who are expecting to receive stimulus checks have been writing in to us about scams around the checks,” she said.

Fleder said two tactics are common: offers to speed up payments, and offers to increase payments. The scammer will then ask for personal details, bank information, and a processing fee.

Young people expecting an impact payment should stay vigilant and stick to official government websites. The IRS’s economic impact payment information center serves as a central resource for information about payments. And those who have not yet received a payment can check the status of their payment through the IRS “Get My Payment” portal.

No. 4: Bogus ads

Gen Z grew up with technology at their fingertips. They’re wired to be social creatures, relying on social media platforms to stay connected. With all that time spent online, young people are bombarded with advertisements and messages. And not all of them are legitimate.

“They may receive direct messages with links, or ads that direct them offsite,” Fegurgur said. “From there they’ll be asked to wire money or send gift cards.”

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) issued consumer warnings about fake websites and emails that promote bogus COVID products. Home test kits. Cure medications. Bogus social media ads and messages touting these products can be masked to appear to come from friends, Fegurgur said.

To help protect themselves, young people should observe recommendations from trusted sources. Here are five from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC):

  • Don’t respond to unknown or suspicious calls or texts.
  • Don’t click unknown or suspicious links in texts, emails, or social media.
  • Never share personal information through phone, text, or email.
  • Be wary of anyone pressuring you to share personal information or make a payment. Government agencies will never call to ask for personal information or money.
  • Research a charity before donating through the state consumer protection office or the Better Business Bureau.

Bottom line

Scammers take advantage of tragedy and chaos, and Gen Z is vulnerable. Visit the FCC Consumer Help Center for the latest information about COVID-19 scams. If you believe you are a victim of a coronavirus-related scam, contact law enforcement. For cyber scams, victims can file a complaint on the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).

Article contributors
Kofi Arhin

Kofi Arhin is a Ph.D. student in information systems in the Lally School of Management at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. Arhin’s research into financial deception helps people to easily detect email scams with and without the help of technical tools. Some of Arhin’s current research includes integrating artificial and human intelligence in big data analysis, compensation and information security in organizations, and social media engagement. Arhin earned his Master of Philosophy and Master of Science from the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration and has worked as a business development manager.

Frankie Fegurgur

Frankie Fegurgur serves as the COO of United Educators Financial Association, helping public school teachers and staff retire with dignity. He believes that financial wellness leads to less stress and better relationships. As a Certified Financial Education Instructor, he teaches financial literacy at the high school and college level. Fegurgur is a graduate of UC Berkeley, and lives in the San Francisco Bay area.

Allie Fleder

Allie Fleder is the COO of SimplyWise, a company that empowers better decisions for modern retirement. She has extensive experience researching and writing about economic policy, Social Security, and retirement related topics. Allie received a bachelor of arts from Columbia College and a Master of Business Administration from London Business School.

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