How to Spot, Avoid, and Report Coronavirus Scams
Beware. Con artists are using fears and uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic to commit fraud.
According to the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”), Americans have filed more than 200,000 claims of COVID-19-related scams this year. Losses related to the scams amount to $145 million dollars.
Below are several of the scams documented by the FTC, along with some general tips for protecting yourself from fraud.
Contact Tracing Scams
To minimize asymptomatic spread of the COVID-19 virus, contact tracers from the health department may contact you if you have been exposed to someone diagnosed with the virus. Contract tracers may ask for your name, information about your health, the names of people with whom you’ve socialized, and places you have visited. However, a legitimate contact tracer will never ask for sensitive personal information such as your social security number or financial information. Additionally, anyone claiming to be a contact tracer who asks you for any type of payment should also raise a red flag.
Unsolicited Emails and Text Messages
Scammers, pretending to represent the IRS, Social Security Administration, and other government agencies are sending emails and text messages about money that you owe or for which you may be eligible. Others are sending fake messages offering free prizes, coupons or loans, or claiming that there is a problem with your payment information or suspicious activity on one of your accounts. The emails and text messages prompt the recipient to click a link. Don’t take the bait! Doing so will download malicious software that allows the scammers to take control of your device and access your personal and financial information.
I received two robocalls yesterday purporting to be from the social security administration calling to inform me that my social security number had been suspended for suspicion of illegal activity and asking that I call them back immediately. Others have reported robocalls from scammers selling fake Covid-19 cures and treatments, posing as government officials offering stimulus checks, or Medicare officials offering free test kids. Do not call back a robocaller who has left a message. If you answer a robocall, hang up immediately.
Online Sales Scams
My husband wanted to buy a stand-up paddleboard. They are hard to find right now, and quite expensive! Presumably based on his search history, my husband received a pop-up ad for the paddleboards he wanted at a significantly discounted price. The site looked legitimate, so he added the paddleboard to his cart, and input his credit card information. It was not until after he completed payment that he realized it was a scam. Thankfully, he was able to contact our credit card company, stop payment, and get a new card.
Other online scammers have taken advantage of the scarcity of personal protective equipment to put up fraudulent websites offering hard-to-find products such as masks, hand sanitizer, sanitizing wipes, and gloves. To protect yourself, always shop on reputable sites. If the website is not one from which you have previously ordered, research whether others have filed complaints about the company. And if a deal seems to good too be true, it likely is.
General Tips to Protect Yourself From Scams
To protect yourself from fraud, take the following general precautions:
- Don’t respond to unsolicited texts, emails, or calls about money you may be owed or special offers of prizes or coupons. Even responding with the word “stop” or “unsubscribe” will confirm that your phone number or email is valid and may result in more text messages and calls.
- Ignore offers for vaccinations and home test kits. There is no approved vaccine at this time. Additionally, the FDA has not approved most test kits, so they may not be accurate.
- Don’t answer calls from unfamiliar numbers or call robocallers back. If you do answer a robocall, hang up immediately. Answering or calling back will likely result in more phone calls.
- Don’t click on links from unknown persons. For added protection, maintain anti-malware and anti-virus software on your computer, activate any options to filter and block unwanted text messages, and activate enhanced password protection on all your password-protected accounts.
- Don’t believe your caller ID. Scammers can fake caller ID information. Remember, government agencies will not make unsolicited calls to you. They also will not ask you to provide or verify personal or financial information.
- Don’t ever share any passwords, personal information, or financial information with unknown persons.
You can learn the latest information about COVID-19 scams by clicking here. To sign up for the FTC’s consumer alerts, click here. If you have been victimized by a scammer, you can file a report by clicking here.
Stay safe and well!