The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t just creating anxiety across the nation and much of the world, but also new opportunities for scammers to exploit people.
Consumer protection agencies like the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) say coronavirus scams are on the rise.
Coronavirus Scams Are on the Rise: Here’s How to Avoid Them
In this article, we’ll list coronavirus scams the FTC and other agencies are spreading the word about as well as ones money expert Clark Howard and Consumer Action Center Director Lori Silverman say you should watch out for.
Stimulus Check Scams
The FTC wants you to know three things about the payout:
- There are no fees: The government will never ask you to pay up front to get your stimulus check.
- There is no need to ‘sign up’ or give your personal data: The government will never call you and ask for your Social Security number, PayPal account or bank information.
- There are no rush jobs: “No one has early access to this money. Anyone that claims to is a scammer,” the agency says.
Clark says crooks are using your inbox to try to get to your wallet. In some cases, scammers are sending bogus emails claiming that companies have developed cures or treatments for coronavirus.
“Be very wary of anybody who contacts you and says they have an incredible opportunity for you to score money,” he says.
Lori says the criminals are using the name of the virus to get you to click. “Emails that have the subject line ‘Coronavirus’ or that have attachments should always raise a red flag.”
A Twitter user says he received a scam email promoting a coronavirus cure.
Sent by someone pretending to be a doctor, the badly written email says in part: “I want to secretly notify you about the availability of our ‘Novel coronavirus vaccine, (mRNA-1273):, which have tested competent for prevention and total cure of COVID-19.”
Here’s what the email recipient posted on Twitter:
Scammers are also contacting people and soliciting them to provide “relief” to coronavirus victims.
“During difficult times, we often see the generosity in people in charitable giving,” Lori says. “However, please check to confirm the charity isn’t going to the bank account of a criminal.”
Clark says one way to protect yourself is to make sure you’re familiar with the work the charity does before you open your wallet.
“Only give to organizations that you know of or are directly involved with,” he adds.
People are also receiving robocalls “to pitch everything from scam coronavirus treatments to work-at-home schemes,” according to the FTC.
When a scammer calls you, here’s what the FTC advises you to do:
- “Don’t press any numbers”
- Hang up the phone
If you have a smartphone, be extra careful downloading any coronavirus apps. The reason is because there are some mobile apps that could literally infect your iPhone or Android phone with a virus.
I searched the App Store on my iPhone and many COVID-19-related apps are still available despite restrictions.
To be safe, the only trustworthy coronavirus-related app you need right now is the CDC’s or those specifically promoted by Apple and Google.
The city of El Paso, Texas, recently sent out a scam alert on social media warning its residents of door-to-door scammers. It’s a warning that Americans anywhere need to heed.
“Beware of door-to-door scammers pretending to do in-home testing for the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). The Department of Public Health will NEVER go door-to-door or do in-home tests for COVID-19,” the city tweeted.
In Canada, the Alberta Health Services tweeted that a phone scam was going around, with callers telling people that they have COVID-19. Since scammers are very opportunistic, you need to know about it as well.
“We are receiving reports of a phone scam in which residents are told they have tested positive for #COVID-19,” the agency says. “The caller then asks for credit card information.”
Obviously, you never want to give your credit card information to a stranger!
Social Media Scams
You also need to look out for social media scams.
A member of Team Clark received just such a message from a hacked Twitter account he was following.
“Have you heard about the good news yet?” the messenger says. “Have you heard about the Federal Department of Health and Community Development block Grant?”
“It’s a special program for helping the old, young, Disabled and non-Disabled, retired and non-retired workers with cash for paying bills, buying house and starting their own business. I got $100,000 from them when I applied for it and pay $2000 for shipping fee and tax clearance fee.”
“Here is his text number (XXX) XXX-XXXX text him right now that you are ready to apply for the grant.”
Obviously, you don’t want to hand over any money from an entity you’ve never heard of. And you definitely wouldn’t do it based on communication that originated on social media!
Although COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus, the safeguards you need to take to avoid these scams are tried and true.
Never give your personal information to someone you don’t know: This applies to phone calls and even someone who shows up at your door.
Don’t open suspicious emails: Clark has always warned against email “phishing” and other scams that can steal your personal information.
No matter what you do, always vet a charity before you decide to give to it. “Make sure you check the FTC charity scams page as well as charitynavigator.org,” Lori says.
If you’re wondering if an organization is legitimate, here’s how to choose the best charities to give to.