Coronavirus Fraud is Rising – Don’t Get Burned
The coronavirus has brought a ton of changes to our lives in 2020 and none of them have been good. Eager to capitalize on our fears and paranoia, scammers have upped their game with fraudulent claims they can help during these crazy times.
Scammers often increase their activity during natural disasters. The COVID-19 pandemic created an opportunity for them to expand to many areas affecting people. At press time, Americans have lost more than $153 million to fraud related to the coronavirus, and have filed more than 213,000 complaints, according to a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) report. The median loss was $300.
Most of the complaints are linked to online shopping and travel scams. However, scams extend to health and debt, including credit card fraud and identity theft.
How can you spot fraud and stay safe? Here’s what you need to know:
Coronavirus scams peaked in the spring during the start of the pandemic and focused on the federal stimulus payments and other forms of relief. As checks were coming in, scammers were working hard to get more than their share posing as workers within the Treasury Department.
Many of the victims targeted are older. AARP warns its members to beware of robocalls, texts, and emails promising COVID-19 cures or stimulus payments.
But scammers affect all ages. Government agencies continue to warn consumers to be wary of anyone asking for personal data such as their name, date of birth, Social Security number, or Medicare and health insurance information. Personal information can be used to commit identity theft or medical insurance fraud.
Types of scams to watch out for
What are the biggest scams currently being reported to government agencies? They include:
The FBI warns of fake COVID-19 antibody tests as a way of harvesting personal information to use in identity theft or health insurance scams. Many scams reported by the FTC revolve around vaccines, cures or treatment, and air filter systems meant to remove COVID from the air.
There is no cure or vaccine, despite any claims otherwise.
Coronavirus antibody tests are among the many fake tests and products that scammers are selling as ways to treat or prevent COVID-19 without proof that they work.
Most test kits being advertised haven’t been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and aren’t necessarily accurate, the FTC says.
The FDA has sent more than 40 warnings to companies selling unapproved products they claim can cure or prevent the coronavirus, and it shut down a website that was promoting a nonexistent vaccine.
Some of the antiviral treatments promoted as defenses against the pandemic include teas, essential oils, cannabinol, colloidal silver, and intravenous vitamin-C therapies.
Consumers should ignore offers for vaccinations and home test kits, it warned.
Additional warnings revolve around requests for money to provide research for a cure or to help victims. If you are contacted with a request for a donation, be wary.
As the Treasury Department reported, many scammers were attempting to get your Economic Impact Payment. As talks on a second stimulus check continue, scammers are watching and will be ready to offer you help to get your stimulus check earlier.
The IRS won’t contact you by phone, email, text message, or social media with information about your stimulus payment, the FTC says. The IRS also won’t ask for your Social Security number, bank account, or government benefits debit card account number. Anyone who does is a scammer phishing for your information, it warns.
The IRS won’t tell you to deposit your stimulus check and then to send them money back because they paid you more than they owed you. That’s a fake check scam.
Scammers have also posed as COVID-19 contact tracers warning people they’ve been exposed to the virus.
The scam texts include a link that downloads malware to your device if clicked and digs into your personal files looking for passwords and other information for identity theft.
Legitimate tracers need health information, not money or personal financial information, the FTC warns.
Steps to avoid scams
The FTC and others recommend ways to avoid scammers, whether related to the coronavirus or something else.
Do not give out your personal information
The No. 1 piece of advice is to not give out your personal information, especially financial information. Giving out your personal information online or through any other method can expose you to identity theft or having your bank account drained.
Do not send money or gift cards to people you do not know
Scammers include people claiming to be a relative or a friend of a friend needing help due to circumstances around COVID. Whether it is an individual or a charity contacting you, do not send money unless you know it’s legitimate and have checked out the service.
Donation requests rise during disasters and disease outbreaks. Don’t donate cash, by gift card or by wiring money. Report suspected fraud to the National Center for Disaster Fraud. Check out nonprofits asking for your money at Charity Navigator and GuideStar for their effectiveness and financial condition, and to see if they’re legitimate.
Do not click on links
The FTC recommends against responding to texts, emails, or calls about checks from the government, and specifically warns about emails claiming to be from the CDC or WHO.
Don’t click on links from sources you don’t know.
Enroll in the 'Do Not Call' Registry
Many scams are coming through via robocalls. Illegal robocalls pitch everything from low-priced health insurance to work-at-home scams. Register your phone number on the National Do Not Call Registry to help reduce the calls.
Do your research
Before you trust anyone or any claims, hop online and do some research to see if an organization or claims are legitimate. Be sure to visit the websites of the organizations reaching out to you as scammers may be using similar URLs that are fakes. If you are asked to log into an account for an update, say on PayPal or a credit card, do not follow the email link. Instead, go directly to the site and log in there. If information does not match, consider it a good time to update your passwords.
The pandemic is spurring new scams attempting to rob you. Americans have lost $300 due to coronavirus scams in 2020. Be alert and wary; if you aren’t sure, trust your gut and review government websites to review and report potential scams.