How to avoid COVID-19 scams
Wednesday, June 17, 2020
COVID-19 has led to a loss of life, decimated the economy, and instilled uncertainty and fear. Unfortunately, those aren’t the only negative effects. The Federal Trade Commission has issued a warning regarding numerous coronavirus scams, which have the potential to cause even more financial woes among consumers.
And Self Financial, a credit-building company, recently published a comprehensive list of current COVID-19 scams.
“The common thread among these scams is to either steal someone’s personal information — social security number, insurance information, bank account info, etc. — or to get their money,” says Lauren Jackson, Accredited Financial Counselor at Self.
While there are a lot of COVID-19 scams, Jackson highlights the following eight scams:
- HVAC cleaning services that promise to clean your air and remove any possible coronavirus contagion from your air ducts.
- Fake testing sites — from telemarketing, to fake drive-through testing sites, to calling with fake results, these sites go all the way to steal your health insurance and other personal information.
- Emails threatening that you’ve been infected with COVID-19 and demanding that you click on a link or download an attachment for details.
- Fake calls and emails spoofing the Social Security Administration, IRS, World Health Organization, or Centers for Disease Control to try and steal personal information.
- Robocalls saying you need to reserve your COVID-19 vaccine, when no vaccine exists yet.
- Targeted social media or online ads that promise at-home cures for the coronavirus.
- “Free” money by way of an online survey, Cash App, or a stimulus check direct deposit.
- Text messages promising free iPhones or Netflix.
Also, while there are legitimate companies that can help refinance your mortgage, be advised that scammers are also posing as legitimate companies in an attempt to gain your personal and financial information.
Health insurance scams are also popular. Jackson says that scammers will call uninsured or underinsured people to offer fake health insurance. This is another scam designed to steal money and personal information.
“Yet another scam is a high-dollar payday loan, which usually targets potential victims via text,” Jackson says. “Also, there’s a scam in which consumers are offered a free face mask in exchange for downloading a particular app.”
There’s yet another scam on Facebook that promises to send a stimulus check if users fill out a fake U.S. Census Survey.
How to spot and avoid a COVID-19 scam
Jackson says her company doesn’t have data to suggest which scams are most popular, but common categories include phishing, robocalls and fake COVID-19 tests and cures.
“There are some red flags to watch out for, such as: being pressured to disclose personal information or make a decision quickly under threat, being contacted by unknown numbers or email addresses, and receiving robocalls,” she says.
“As always, the elderly are a big target, but social media and email scams target people of all ages.” Scams are always a problem, but Jackson says there’s a spike during certain times.
“Scammers are most active during times of crisis and when people receive a chunk of money, such as a tax refund or government stimulus check,” she says.
The FTC provides five tips for avoiding a COVID-19 scam:
- Ignore calls and emails for vaccinations or home test kits.
- Hang up when you get a robocall.
- Don’t click on the links in emails or text messages received from people you don’t know. Only trust sites like coronavirus.gov and usa.gov/coronavirus to provide accurate information.
- Don’t donate any money until you can research the organization or person.
- Visit FTC Scams to stay abreast of scams.
How to get help if you’ve been scammed
“If your financial information has been compromised in a scam, report it to your financial institution or lender as soon as possible,” Jackson says. “Change the passwords on your accounts, and if necessary, place a fraud alert or credit freeze on your credit report to make it harder for someone to open new accounts in your name.”
If you think you’ve been scammed, you should report the incident to the FTC. “This is the main government agency that collects scam reports in the U.S., and reporting suspected scams helps bring scam artists to justice and prevents others from being taken advantage of, too." This is the link to file a report.
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