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COVID-19 Scams

Con-artists around the globe are trying to use fear brought on by COVID-19 to scam people. There are several common forms to watch out for, and several actions you can take to ensure you don’t fall victim to a COVID-19 scam. 

Emotional storytelling is, by far, the most effective and common trick to motivate someone to act. Aside from cheeky marketers and salespeople, con artists also understand this underling human psychology. In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, con artists from around the globe are trying to use fear to scare their victims into giving them money. Special agent Steven M. D’Antuono, as well as thousands of other officials, have begun calling on the public to avoid these scams. 

From emails to phone calls, and even door-to-door scammers, fake cures, treatments, and remedies a well as bogus claims of offering PPE supplies are being used to scam people out of money. In a statement issued on Monday (30MAR2020), the FCC stated, “As the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues to impact the United States, phone scammers have seized the opportunity to prey on consumers.”. This often takes the form of someone claiming they can deliver “cures” or “treatments” for COVID-19 for a fee, of course. Often times, the scammer will claim to represent or directly work for the CDC or other healthcare organization. It’s important to note, however, that according to the World Health Organization, “To date, there is no vaccine and no specific antiviral medicine to prevent or treat COVID-2019.” (source). 

Other officials like the IRS are now also warning individuals against scams that try to leverage the stimulus checks from the Cares Act. On Friday, President Trump signed a two trillion-dollar stimulus package with unanimous consent in the Senate and House (Washington Post). Under the bill, roughly 560 billion will be used to send checks of $1,200 to working adults, and $500 for each child claimed on a tax return. However, scammers may try to cash in on this check by posing as the IRS and asking for personal information in exchange for the check. It’s important to note, however, that the IRS has explicitly stated they will not, in any circumstance, ask for personal information to deliver checks or perform direct deposits. Instead, the IRS will use data from 2019 tax return information. If you have not yet filed for 2019 taxes (the deadline has been extended until July 15th), then the IRS will use information from your 2018 tax return. Check and direct deposits are expected to be sent within the next three weeks. 

Types of COVID-19 Scams

Some commonly reported scams appear through text messages. The scam starts innocently enough by the con artist pretending to be an official from the CDC or other healthcare organization. They typically offer to send you a home test kit to check for COVID-19. Some people say they have then been asked to make a payment for the so-called “at-home” test, while others have been asked to click on a link. Either way, the claims are entirely bogus since testing can only be done at official clinics or drive-throughs.

Additionally, all COVID-19 testing is legally required to be free, even if you don’t have insurance. Some other scammers have also taken to using robocalls. In a highly targeted scam, some individuals report receiving a robocall, which offers a COVID-19 test for individuals with diabetes, individuals who have a high risk of contracting and being hospitalized from the coronavirus. The call also typically provides a free diabetic monitoring device and asks you to call back their phone number. If you call the number back, a fake representative will then attempt to gather as much personal information on you as possible. This information can be used for a series of nefarious purposes like stealing your identity or even blackmail. Yet, there are still other forms of scams like emails portraying “at-home” work opportunities, duct-cleaning, and even student loan repayment options, to name a few. Perhaps most elaborate of all the phone scams known as the “family scam,” attempt to target older individuals. An individual calls the victim in a panic and claims to be a member of the family; sometimes, they may even know a real family member’s name. They then say they have been infected with COVID-19 and need money to receive treatment. 

Although all of these scams may sound overwhelming, there are numerous tips you can take into account which will keep you and your loved ones safe from these scams. Perhaps the best advice is never given out personal information, no matter what. Credible businesses such as financial institutions or healthcare organizations almost always have your information already on file. In the case where you may need to confirm your identity, make sure you go to the official company website and call the number listed. If you ever receive a call and the representative asks for personal information, then hang up and call the official number instead. You can also take this a step further by adding these official numbers as contacts on your phone. This could also help older members of your family by ensuring they only answer calls from trusted phone numbers.

Additionally, it would help if you stayed up to date with the latest news and information by visiting the WHO, CDC, or other official websites or read news reports from reputable papers. 

WHO

CDC

This will help you clear up rumors and misinformation. For example, if you have been following any political news, you would know that the IRS will not contact you to send the stimulus money, yet scammers will call and ask for personal information such as your bank account details. All in all, you should remain skeptical like always and only trust official websites, statements, and phone numbers and never hand out personal information.

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