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How to Spot and Avoid COVID-19 Scams


Recognize and protect yourself  from the many Coronavirus scams

 

The pandemic has brought out the good in most people as we all strive to get through this together.  However, it has also brought out the scammers. Those that seek to take advantage of the vulnerabilities and fears of others in the face of this crisis. Scammers are creative and cunning, finding new ways to exploit unsuspecting people every day.  The coronavirus pandemic brought fear and confusion to communities around the world, the perfect environment for fraudulent schemes to flourish.

Being alert to these scammers as they come along can help protect you and your family from needless harm and financial problems.  Read on for a breakdown of some of the most common scams and how to protect yourself.

Expedited COVID Stimulus Checks/Refund Demands

The stimulus checks that many Americans will be receiving have been a little slower in arriving in the mailbox than expected. This has led to many people searching online to find out when they will be received. The only place to safely find this information is at the IRS Economic Impact Payment Information Center.

Other dubious sites offer to expedite checks in exchange for filling in a form with personal information such as social security numbers.  People have even been contacted with the information that they were overpaid and owe the IRS a refund.  Never give out information over the phone to anyone claiming to be from the IRS.  The IRS will never demand payment over the phone.

Read more: Financially Surviving The COVID-19 Pandemic

Antibodies and Cures for Sale

Selling snake oil is one of the oldest conman tricks.  Don’t fall for the many variations of this scam that have popped up just in time to cure you of the coronavirus. These range from supplements and herbs that prevent you from getting the coronavirus, to blood and saliva of recovered COVID-19 patients that contain antibodies against the virus. For the most up to date and accurate information go to the Center for Disease Control Corona virus information page. Don’t waste your money purchasing products of little value, or products that you will never receive from sketchy websites.

Donation Scams

Regardless of the crisis, scammers take advantage of people’s wishes to help others less fortunate.  There is often an increase in fake charities and crowdsourcing sites when a tragedy strikes. Before you donate to a charity, do your own research to ensure that the money is going where you think it is. Pick up the phone and call the charity directly or go through an official website if you are planning to donate to a cause.

Small Business Payroll Protection Program Scams

The only place where you should apply for government assistance for your small business is at SBA.gov. It can be confusing to apply for these forgivable small business loans and there have been cases of small business owners seeking help through felonious sites. These sites have charged a ‘deposit’ to provide assistance in applying for the program only to vanish with the money.

Read more: Managing Financial Priorities During COVID-19

Contact Tracing Scams

Public health departments around the country are hiring ‘Contact Tracers’ who work with COVID-19 positive individuals to help trace their recent activity and contact with others in their communities. This helps the state department to trace the potential movement of the virus through a population and quarantine potentially infected people before they show symptoms.

Contact Tracers will reach out to those who have been in contact with the infected person to alert them to their risk for developing coronavirus. This usually begins with a text stating that the person will be contacted by phone. In contrast, the texts sent by scammers include a link to click which will ask you to provide information to ‘verify’ your identity and sometimes even a credit card number. A legitimate tracer will never ask for personal information or money.

Shopping for the Elderly

Be wary of calls, especially to the elderly, pretending to be from a local community or grass roots organization who are offering to do their grocery shopping.  These criminals ask for credit card details up front to pay for the groceries.  Needless to say, this is the last you will hear from them as they use your credit cards and vanish.

WORKING FROM HOME

Tech Support Scams

The number of people working from home has jumped from 4% to 33% in the last few months.  This has brought about a slew of technical problems as people establish their home offices.  Not wanting to bring a technical support person into the home due to social distancing restrictions, some employees have opted for online or phone help to set up their computers to work remotely. Scammers have posed as legitimate help while tricking unsuspecting people into providing them access to their computers via Trojan horse programs or screen sharing, ultimately gaining access to your bank accounts and other personal data.

Read more: How To Cope With Loss Of Income During COVID-19

 WiFi Penalty Schemes

Complaints have been reported on criminals posing as a WiFi provider representative, claiming that a victim must pay a penalty for some false reason or lose access to the internet.  With so many people now working from home, the loss of the internet connection would be a major problem. If in doubt, hang up and call your internet provider directly.

Webcam Extortion

Google Meet and Zoom changed and facilitated the way many are working during the pandemic. However, while the webcam meetings are productive at work they can still pose a threat if hacked. Even if you are not hacked, you may receive an email stating that the scammer has ‘intimate’ footage of you via your webcam and ask for payment via Bitcoin, or you risk exposure. They easiest way to avoid this is to cover your webcam lens when not in use.

Useful Links:

Federal Communications Commission COVID-19 Consumer Safety Tips

Federal Trade Commission Contact Tracing Scams

Federal Trade Commission Advice for Consumers

US Department of Justice, Combating COVID-19 Fraud

 



Lori from Linked in

Lori Stratford is the Digital Media Manager at Navicore Solutions. She promotes the reach of Navicore’s financial education to the public through social media and blog content.

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