As we continue to practice social distancing, people have retreated to their homes and are using technology to communicate with family, conduct their work and make online purchases. As we try to stay safe and out of harm’s way, scammers remain an ever-present threat and are developing new schemes to steal money or the identity of unsuspecting victims. It’s a well-known fact that scammers thrive during times of crisis, such as pandemics and natural disasters, along with any other environment of fear.
This places those who have the most to fear from COVID-19 – people who have lost their jobs, the elderly, or immunocompromised individuals – at greater risk of falling victim to scammers’ traps, as they unknowingly disclose their personally identifiable information (PII) to COVID-19 scammers when looking for assistance. According to the Federal Trade Commission’s Report, from January 1st through April 15th, Americans have reported losing $13.44 million dollars to fraud and they’ve received 18,235 reports related to COVID-19. To avoid coronavirus scams, it’s crucial to understand and identify the red flags and behaviors of “fear scammers.”
There are currently no proven or FDA-approved cures, vaccines, drugs or “experimental” treatments that can treat or cure the novel coronavirus. Scammers are currently reaching out via email, text message and automated calls attempting to get victims to invest in the newest “cure”, pay in advance for home tests, or sell you nonexistent protective gear. The best way to avoid these scams is to remain skeptical and always investigate an offer fully before acting on it. Most importantly, stay informed. Visit the CDC’s FAQ page or the Food & Drug Administration’s (FDA) website for accurate and up-to-date COVID-19 medical news.
For the millions of displaced workers actively searching for employment, using a reputable job assistance service can reduce your chances of being scammed. Avoid job offers that seem too good to be true and be wary of employers asking for PII before the hiring process begins. These scammers prey on peoples fear and sense of urgency as they look for their next paycheck. While job hunting, always research the company beforehand and check the company’s reputation on the Better Business Bureau’s website.
Say No to Money
Scammers commonly try to gain credibility by posing as representatives from federal organizations such as the IRS, the Social Security Administration, or Small Business Administration. These scammers call or email victims offering or requesting money in exchange for personal information. It’s important to note that these federal entities will rarely reach out via phone, especially if they are offering money. If you’re unsure, it’s safest to always check the number against the contact information listed on the official organization’s website.
Not All Trackers Are Created Equal
With the spread of COVID-19, many cell phone applications that allow users to track the coronavirus by showing infection maps and statistics have gone up on app stores around the world. However, scammers will use these trackers to upload malware onto a victim’s cellphone, giving them access to the information on your phone without you even knowing it. When looking for COVID-19 trackers, there is no need for you to download an application – there are several trackers readily available online from trusted medical institutions. If you do wish to use an app to track the virus, make sure you do research beforehand by reading the reviews and ratings on the app store to make sure that you are getting a legitimate application.
The best ways to avoid any scam is to remain skeptical and thoroughly research all news, products, job offerings and medical data. Never give out personal information over the phone or via email – organizations that offer relief money will almost always reach out via direct mail. Some COVID-19 tracking applications can contain malware so it might be good to consider using an online tracker from a reputable website instead. Scammers will always prey on people’s fears, offering “relief” services to those who need it most and using sophisticated methods to steal personal finances and information at a time when people need them most.