Scam Alert: Con Artists Prey on COVID-19 Fears
Con Artists Are Quick To Mobilize During COVID-19
From natural disasters to world disturbances, any time there is big news that worries people, con artists are quick to capitalize on our fears and concerns. We haven’t seen a more concerning current event than the COVID-19 pandemic in many years—and no sooner did the word “coronavirus” appear in the headlines than fraudsters unleashed their own epidemic of schemes.
We can’t immunize ourselves and our loved ones against coronavirus yet, but we can ward off con artists with a “shot” of awareness! First, let’s learn what to look out for. Experts are raising awareness of several types of COVID-19 scams you might encounter:
- Unscrupulous marketers who are selling fake products that claim to treat, diagnose or prevent the virus.
- Callers pretending to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or health department, telling you that you’ve been exposed to the virus—and asking for your health insurance information or bank account number.
- Similar calls and emails, claiming to contain information about the upcoming government stimulus checks.
- Emails claiming to contain important information from the World Health Organization or the CDC, with links to malicious websites that can steal your personal data or even hold your computer for ransom.
- Phony charities or crowdfunding appeals, pretending to collect donations to fund research or to help people who are affected by the virus; instead, the money you give supports a crook’s lavish lifestyle.
- Attempts to bill insurance companies and Medicare for nonexistent or useless tests and treatments.
- Shady investment opportunities, taking advantage of economic uncertainty of the times—or, claiming to be selling stock in a miracle product that will rise hugely in value.
- Phony “work from home opportunities” that take advantage of people whose job security is jeopardized.
- Inflated prices for disinfecting wipes, toilet paper, face masks and other commodities that are, or are perceived to be, in short supply.
Prevention is key
- Educate yourself—knowledge is power. For example, some scammers have been advertising COVID-19 vaccines, though no such vaccine exists. Others have been marketing “tests” that don’t work. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns that companies are making deceptive claims about teas, essential oils and supplements, as well.
- Alert senior loved ones about these scams, and encourage them to share the information with their friends. Older adults are often targeted by con artists, and once a senior has fallen for a scam or even engaged the caller, they are often added to a list of likely victims and targeted all the more relentlessly.
- Don’t click on email links from sources you don’t know, and keep your antivirus software up to date
- Be very suspicious of product offers that use language like “your doctor doesn’t want you to know about this.”
- If you receive an unsolicited call or email, never provide your credit card number or Medicare ID number. Hang up the phone, or ignore the email.
- Regularly check your credit card, insurance and Medicare statements and report any suspicious claims and charges.
What to do if you think you or a loved one has been victimized:
The U.S. Department of Justice says to:
- Contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721 or via email at email@example.com
- Report it to the FBI at tips.fbi.gov
- If it’s an online scam, submit your complaint through www.ic3.gov/default.aspx