02 May Be Alert, Be Wary: COVID-19 Brings Out the Scammers
As millions of American families mourn and others suffer with the coronavirus and its aftereffects, fraudsters are rolling up their sleeves and polishing their skills to take advantage of the most vulnerable among us.
These people are wily—they follow the headlines and adapt their messaging
They model their scams to fit the latest developments. Testing? Not a problem. Here are fake testing sites, in-demand products and bogus cures. By April 23, the FTC had received more than 25,400 consumer complaints related to the outbreak, including nearly 14,000 fraud complaints. Tragically, victims have reported losing nearly $20M; the median loss was $556.
Be on the lookout for other scams
It’s important to understand the fundamentals: There is currently no vaccine for COVID-19. There are no drugs that have been proven safe to treat the disease. None exists. That includes hydroxychloroquine that Donald Trump has been pitching. The medical community does not endorse this drug as a COVID-19 treatment. It can have serious health consequences.
- Teas, essential oils, cannabinol, colloidol silver and intravenous vitamin-C therapies are treatments being touted online and on TV as defenses against the pandemic—none of these is a legitimate treatment for the virus.
- Other scammers claiming to be selling or offering in-demand supplies such as surgical masks, test kits and household cleaners, often in robocalls, texts or social media ads. The FTC has issued warnings to companies suspected of abetting coronavirus robocalls.
- IRS scams. With most Americans set to receive stimulus checks under the CARES Act, the IRS warns of a wave of schemes promising to escalate payments. Beware calls or emails from supposed government agencies using the term “stimulus” asking you to sign over a check or provide personal information like your Social Security number. These are bogus. The government will not be contacting you; rather, they will be mailing you a check or doing a direct deposit into your checking account.
- Be alert to calls from so-called banks and lenders offering help with credit card debt. Fraudsters are targeting small businesses with promises of quick capital or debt forgiveness.
- The stock market. The SEC is warning investors about scammers touting investments in companies with products that prevent, detect or cure COVID-19. They entice people with the promise that those stocks will soar in price. Remember—there is no product that can cure or prevent this disease. Rather, this is a moving target that mutates.
Phishing scams: Planting malware as a way to download passwords and other information
- The Justice Department hasshut down hundreds of phony websites. These sites will incorporate “coronavirus” or “covid19” in their domain names and promise vaccines and other aid, often claiming to represent the government or an aid organization.
- The trap is triggered when you contact those malicious domains. You start getting phishing emails from scammers in an attempt either to plant malware on your computer or to get your personal information. Google reported in mid-April that its Gmail platform was blocking a whopping 18 million such messages/day.
- These emails appear to be from real businesses or government agencies. Once you click on a link or download an attached file, you import a program that uses your internet connection to spread more malware, or digs into your personal files looking for passwords and other information for purposes of identity theft.
The bottom line: Be cautious when looking for COVID info
Remember that developing a vaccine for a disease is going to take much longer than we would like. Legitimate coronavirus information will come from the CDC or the WHO. Over the next few weeks especially, be extremely wary of fundraising calls, of anyone asking for your personal information or offering you a great deal. Be cautious about opening emails from sources you don’t recognize and clicking on suspicious links. If in doubt, delete.
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