Beware of Coronavirus Scams!
Our staff member, Alison,keep_calm_infographic_en_508 recently watched a webinar titled “Coronavirus Frauds and Scams: What You Need to Know.” The presenter works at the Federal Trade Commision (FTC), a federal agency charged with protecting consumers. The speaker shared scams to be aware of and gave tips to avoid falling victim to them. While the webinar addressed Coronavirus scams specifically, the advice is universal.
Since the beginning of the year, the FTC has gotten 13,000 complaints of fraud regarding the coronavirus, with $9.5 million in losses. This is not a surprise, as scammers often follow the headlines. They change their scams based on current events. Scammers know that we are worried about contracting COVID-19 and about our job stability and finances. They know how to operate on those fears and emotions.
Scammers are luring people with promises of cures and treatments. They offer the victim access to a vaccine, test kit, miracle cure, or a special Medicare program that will qualify them for these items. There is currently no vaccine, miracle cure, or special access, and testing is only available at specific locations. Some makers of teas, essential oils, and colloidal silver claim that their products prevent coronavirus, but they have no evidence to support these claims. The FTC and FDA have sent warning letters to these manufacturers.
In some places, scammers pretend to offer testing. They erect tents and wear protective equipment to look the part. These people are not affiliated with a hospital and the victims do not get tested, but the scammers get people’s money and/or personal information.
Scammers often use phishing emails to reach their victims. The emails direct you to share your personal information or click on a link that downloads malware (software that damages or provides access to your computer). Many phishing emails look like they are from legitimate or well-known organizations, but there is usually something off about the email—an incorrect logo, spelling errors, or poor grammar. Many malicious websites are adding “coronavirus” to their links, assuming that people who see “coronavirus” in the web address will go to them for information. It is best to look for information on well-known, trusted websites. And, as always, do not click links from sources you do not know.
Most people are familiar with and thoroughly annoyed by robocalls. Scammers are now calling about cures, prevention, test kits, telemedicine, health insurance, and cleaning supplies. They will use anything to get your personal information. They might try to convince you that you need to pay or give bank information for Social Security payments, mortgage relief, student loan relief, or stimulus checks. The government will never ask you to pay up-front or give your social security number, bank account, or credit card information. Do not try to engage the caller or press any buttons. Just hang up.
With crises come fake charities. There are legitimate charities that emerge during crises, but you want to be sure your money is going to help people in need. Before you give to a charity, research it. You can go to ftc.gov/charity to find more information. If you contribute, do not pay with cash, gift cards, or money transfers. If they ask you to pay with a gift card, it is a scam.
If you are suspicious of an organization, call, email, letter, or flyer you receive, ask yourself 3 questions before you respond:
- Who is the message from?
- What do they want me to do?
- What is the evidence behind this message?
These questions will help you determine if you are being scammed.
If you have a complaint about a business or believe you are the victim of fraud, you should report it to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.
For more information on COVID-19 scams go to ftc.gov/coronavirus.