The vast majority of Americans have really pulled together during the coronavirus pandemic.
But, sad to say, there are still a few dishonest people trying to rip you off by using the crisis to manipulate you and your emotions.
Several scams have popped up in recent weeks. As if you don’t already have enough else to worry about, you need to take steps to not only social distance yourself from other people, but to scam distance yourself as well.
Watch Out for These Coronavirus Scams
Here are some of the coronavirus scams currently making the rounds.
Fake charities. Now, more than ever, charities are desperate and need help. With the rolls of the unemployed soaring, the demand for services is going to stretch a lot of nonprofits to the limit. Scammers know this and will reach out to you by phone or online to take advantage of your generosity. If you haven’t heard of a particular charity before, research the charity and ask lots of questions before you commit to a donation.
Fake personal protective equipment. Masks, gloves, face shields, and hand sanitizers are in high demand for healthcare professionals, others providing essential services, and consumers. The scam is further legitimized by creating a shell company that sounds official or like a well-known provider to gain your trust. Be on guard.
Fake cures. There is no cure for the coronavirus as of this writing. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a liar or trying to rip you off. You’ve probably already seen a lot of different homeopathic, “secret,” or newly discovered ways to treat symptoms. Unless medical experts tasked with finding ways to address the cure tell you what is working, don’t believe what you read.
Phishing, fake emails, robocalls, and texts. Scams that were popular before the pandemic are still popular among thieves. Scammers will use fraudulent emails and text to try and induce you into sharing valuable personal information. Be highly suspicious of any requests to share account numbers, Social Security numbers, passwords, and other information that makes you vulnerable to losses.
Phishing emails may induce you to click on a link, often appearing to be from a legitimate organization (state or federal government agencies, The World Health Organization, etc.). When you click on a link, a scammer can install ransomware or programs that lock you out of your computer or steal your personal information.
Scammers have also used personal computer access to install and infect computers with malware. Recently, malicious websites used the real Johns Hopkins University interactive dashboard of coronavirus infections and deaths to spread password-stealing malware.
Another recently revealed phishing scam was uncovered, showing scammers impersonating the World Health Organization. The scammers offered a fake e-book to victims, and when they attempted to access the book, malicious code for a downloader called GuLoader was instead installed on their computers.
Student loan forgiveness. There have been a lot of discussions about helping students with relief from burdensome student loans during the crisis. At this point, the only thing that has happened is that student loan payments have been suspended as part of the recent stimulus package passed by Congress.
Scammers are relying on your fears about paying your student loans and may reach out with an offer that promises you student loan forgiveness if you pay an upfront fee.
The federal government can forgive or restructure student loans through public service loan forgiveness or income-driven repayment. But private companies cannot cancel student loan debt, so don’t fall for it.
How to Protect Yourself
It is impossible to track every scam. So, you need to heed general precautions to protect yourself:
- Never give out personal information over the phone. If a charity contacts you to donate, check out its background first. Use a credit card instead of cash or a check to provide yourself with more protection.
- Hang up on robocalls immediately. No exceptions. Don’t press any numbers for more information, either. That tells the robocaller you might be interested and will likely result in more robocalls.
- Never pay upfront to get money or help from the government. Also, the government will never call and ask you for personal information (i.e., Social Security number, birthday, credit card numbers, etc.).
- No private student loan company can help you with loan forgiveness. If you’re approached about this, you are being scammed.
- If you’re buying in-demand products, know who you are buying from. Online sellers may claim they have cleaning, household items, medical and health supplies available when they do not.
- The same rule applies to charities. Do your homework and verify that you are going to donate to a legitimate charity. Or, donate to a well-known and established charity like the Red Cross. You can also keep your donations local and give to a food bank, shelter, or other community-based nonprofit to keep your assistance close to home.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) oversees consumer fraud in the United States. You can subscribe to alerts for consumers and businesses to keep up with the latest scams. You can also like the FTC Facebook page.
What to do If You’ve Been Scammed
If you feel you have been the victim of a coronavirus scam, you can contact your state attorney general.
You should also report any scams or suspicious claims to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.
Also, file a criminal complaint with your local police department. It may not have the resources to help you directly but can provide valuable tracking information to state and federal law enforcement agencies who can then more accurately direct resources to fight coronavirus scams.
Contact your banks and credit card companies to be on the lookout for fraudulent activities in your accounts. Also, change your password information and try to use different combinations for different sites. Closely monitor your credit on a regular basis (daily is not too often these days), in case a scammer has gained access and used your information.
Consider contacting national credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) as part of a strategy to maintain and access your credit reports. You can also freeze your credit, which prohibits anyone from viewing your credit report.
If you don’t want to freeze your credit, consider requesting a fraud alert instead. You only need to request an initial fraud alert with one of the three bureaus, and that agency will pass along your request to the other two. An initial fraud alert stays on your credit reports for 90 days. You can renew it as many times as you want. You can also place an extended alert that will last for seven years.
Corona virus image provided by CDC/ Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAMS