The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports that Americans have lost nearly $13.5 million in COVID-19-related scams since the beginning of the year.
Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Scammers are experts at shifting tactics and changing messages to catch people off guard – and if there’s one thing they love, it’s a crisis.
During times of hardship, like the current pandemic, people feel anxious and stressed. They want a quick fix or an easy way out. And that’s exactly what scammers offer.
Until the COVID-19 infections come to an end, the scams won’t stop.
Here’s a quick look at some known virus-related scams and what you can do to protect yourself.
According to the FTC, scammers have been calling people offering things like a “COVID-19 kit,” Coronavirus package,” or Medicare benefits related to the virus. When you express interest, the scammers will ask you to verify personal information like your Medicare ID, Social Security number, or bank account information. If you get a call from someone that says they are from Medicare, hang up. A real Medicare representative would never call and ask you to verify personal information over the phone.
Stimulus Check Scams
Many Americans received a stimulus payment via direct deposit in recent weeks, and many others are still waiting for their physical check to arrive in the mail. The FTC is reporting an upswing in fraudulent calls, texts, and emails purporting to come from the Social Security Administration, IRS, USCIS, or FDIC. These fake government calls may promise you fast access to your stimulus money or cash relief if you give them bank account information. Don’t fall for it!
COVID-19 Treatment Scams
We all want this pandemic to be over quickly and we’d all like a viable treatment to be available. Some scammers have created fake websites offering hard-to-find items such as hand sanitizer and face masks in the hopes that you will “buy” them. Some are also claiming to have access to experimental treatments or vaccines, but no such thing has been approved by the FDA for home use. Avoid making purchases from unfamiliar websites or, at a minimum, do some research before you shop.
Debt Reduction Scams
Scammers know that many people are struggling financially, and they hope to capitalize on their desire to be rid of debt. Bottom line: If someone calls and offers you a debt reduction technique that seems too good to be true, it probably is. Many banks, credit card companies, and other financial services are offering hardship assistance to customers who have been affected by COVID-19. These are the safer bet.
Scammer may be reaching out claiming to work for charitable organizations that help people affected by COVID-19. If you’d like to donate to help those in need at this time, make sure it’s a legitimate charity with a name you recognize. If you can’t find the company listed in the IRS Tax-Exempt Organization Search Tool, that’s a big red flag.
How to Avoid COVID-19 Scams
If you want to keep yourself safe from COVID-19-related scams, follow these simple guidelines:
- Beware of anyone who asks for personal information like Social Security or bank account numbers
- Check any email address or links for legitimacy. You can inspect a link by hovering your curser over the URL to see where it leads
- Watch for spelling and grammar mistakes or odd phrasing in written communications like emails and letters
- Listen for generic greetings – scammers are less likely to use your actual name and may address you as “Sir” or “Madam”
- Avoid any person or organization that insists that you “act now”
Sources of Information
Government offices and health care agencies are often the best sources of information regarding COVID-19. If you have questions about coronavirus, here are a few of the best places to find answers:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
World Health Organization
National Institutes of Health