Coronavirus scams targeting seniors are on the rise. Online and telemarketing scams become more common during times of crisis and recession.
Fear tends to short-circuit our critical thinking capacity, which is why scams seem to proliferate during these times. Older adults are often specifically targeted because they tend to be more emotionally and financially vulnerable. Those who are living in isolation or suffering from cognitive decline are at a much higher risk of falling prey to these schemes.
The best way to protect yourself or a loved one from one of these scams is to be aware of them, and think critically whenever you are being contacted by a third party asking for financial information.
Most Common Coronavirus Scams
While there are numerous scams out there, they can be sorted into a few different types. Here are the five major ones:
- Charity scams. Posing as a charitable organization to collect funds fraudulently is a scam that is seen most often after natural disasters such as hurricanes, fires, or other tragedies.
Scammers prey on the human desire to help during these times of crisis. Be wary of calls from anyone claiming to “collect” money for a pandemic-related charity, and NEVER give your financial information over the phone.
- Faulty home testing kits.Home testing kits are generally not approved by the FDA. The virus is also notoriously difficult to test for, and tests should only be performed by trained medical professionals.
- Stimulus check deception. Many scammers took advantage of confusion related to stimulus check payments to get personal information from targets. As the government discusses further stimulus payments, be on the lookout for these types of scams, and avoid giving information via phone, email, or text to anyone about this issue.
- False vaccines, devices, or supplements. Modern “snake oil” salesmen are alive and well in our age, and they thrive on the newness and uncertainty of this virus. Be aware that there are currently NO FDA-approved vaccines or supplements that will “prevent” or “cure” COVID-19.
- Fake emails phishing for private information. Fake emails or “phishing” scams are attempts to get people to click on links in their email that appear legitimate - but then redirect the user to a website that collects data like Social Security numbers and other personal and financial information.
How to Avoid Coronavirus Scams
The FTC has the following additional advice to help you determine whether you are being contacted by a scammer or a legitimate agency:
- When it comes to donations, never donate in cash, by gift card, or by wiring money.
- Ignore offers for vaccinations and home test kits. Most test kits being advertised have not been approved by the FDA. Similarly, calls that claim to be contact tracers but want you to pay for results or give your Social Security number are scams.
- NEVER respond to texts, emails or calls about checks from the government.
- Hang up on robocalls. Scammers are using illegal robocalls to pitch numerous scams.
- Watch out for emails claiming to be from the CDC or WHO. Use sites like coronavirus.gov and usa.gov/coronavirus to get the latest information. Don’t click email links from sources that seem suspicious. If you hover over a link (without clicking) and it looks suspicious, it probably is.
What to Do If You're a Victim of a Coronavirus-Related Scam
Suspicious calls, emails, or texts should be reported to the FCC. Also, immediately contact your bank or credit card company to report which accounts may be compromised, as well as the type of information that may have been disclosed. Finally, law enforcement should be alerted to ensure they are aware of the scam.
Most importantly, don’t feel ashamed if you are the victim of a scam! Most of these people are experts at playing with human emotions, and some may even “spoof” phone numbers so that your caller ID makes it look like they are calling from a legitimate agency. Many scammers are able to work undetected for a long time because they target people who are too ashamed to report the scam.
The sooner you report these scammers, the fewer people they will be able to harm.
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