There are always people who take advantage of situations and fellow human beings, usually for their own benefit and often by using criminal means.
The COVID-19 pandemic is certainly no exception. Beyond efforts to stay safe from the virus itself, we all must also remain vigilant against fraudulent attempts to monopolize on the COVID-19 situation and protect our hard-earned savings.
And, much like the virus that attacks older adults in a very serious way, these scams often target and are most successful against the vulnerable elderly population.
Here are some of the COVID-19 scams that we all need to look out for and protect ourselves against.
COVID-19 phishing attempts
“Phishing” is a word that’s used to describe an effort to gain personal information without one’s knowledge and with criminal intent. These “phishing expeditions” happen most often via a phone call or an email, but they can also take place by text, online at websites, through traditional mail, and even in person.
You should always be extremely wary of anyone who requests any of your personal or financial information for any reason. But right now, you might see some of these phishing attempts manifest in the following ways:
- Unsolicited requests for Medicare or Medicaid numbers.
- Emails that appear to be from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) with attached notices regarding infection-prevention measures for COVID-19 or requests for donations.
- Communication of any kind claiming to be from the U.S. Treasury Department that offers COVID-19 grants or stimulus payments in exchange for personal financial information or money, including the purchase of gift cards.
- Any links within emails related to COVID-19, which, when clicked, can download malware that swipes personal and financial information off computers or will lead users to false websites designed to do the same.
- Communication of any kind claiming to be from the World Health Organization (WHO) or charities, asking for donations in regards to COVID-19.
- Phone texts that falsely advertise a cure for COVID-19 or an offer to be tested for the disease.
- Phone calls, texts, or emails offering COVID-19 supplies for sale.
Look out for spoofed numbers
Be sure not to be fooled into thinking some of these frauds are from government agencies. Many fraudsters use technology that can “spoof” phone numbers. That is, they can make a phone number appear that its tied to an official U.S. government agency. It’s easy to assume — albeit incorrectly — that the phone calls are coming from that agency.
The truth is that the U.S. government rarely calls people or even emails them, unless very specifically asked to do so. Most often, communication — especially important, legal documents — is done via traditional USPS mail. “Snail mail,” however, is very inconvenient for fraudsters, especially if they are overseas, so it’s rarely their means of communicating with intended victims.
How to protect yourself
With this onslaught of attacks in this time of uncertainty and fear, what can you do to make sure you don’t fall victim?
- First, be suspicious of all coronavirus-related communication you receive at this time. Everything is suspect right now. Be leary of all phone calls, texts, and emails you receive in regards to COVID-19. Assume from the get-go that every form of communication regarding COVID-19 is a fraud attempt — especially if it was unexpected and unsolicited.
- If you get any online communication or phone calls that are supposedly from a government agency — American or from nations abroad — regarding the coronavirus, your best bet is to simply ignore them. If it’s a phone call, don’t pick it up. If it’s an email, don’t open it. If you do open it, don’t click on any links inside of it.
- Be wary of any attachments within any email.
- If you see ads on social media in regards to COVID-19 supplies, testing, or treatments, simply ignore them.
- Make sure your computer is running the most up-to-date virus and malware security software.
- NEVER give out any personal or financial information via email, text, or over the phone, including usernames and passwords to online accounts.
Who to contact about COVID-19 scams
If you’d like to report a suspected scam attempt, you should contact the following agencies and resources:
The National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline: Call (866) 720-5721 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC): Visit fcc.gov/complaints.
The U.S. Department of the Treasury: Visit https://www.treasury.gov/tigta/index.shtml.
The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI): Visit .https://www.ic3.gov/.
The United States Department of Justice: Visit https://www.justice.gov/coronavirus.
If you believe that you have been a victim of COVID-19 fraud, immediately contact your local law enforcement for help.