Fraudsters and scam artists are always looking for new ways to prey on consumers. Unfortunately, they are using the same tactics to take advantage of consumers’ heightened financial and health concerns over the coronavirus pandemic. Federal, state, and local law enforcement have begun issuing warnings on the surge of coronavirus scams and how consumers can protect themselves. Read along to learn more information on how to protect yourself and your loved ones against Coronavirus Scams.
Fraudsters are exploiting the opportunity to steal the Personally Identifiable Information (PII), financial information, and even medical information, of those looking for knowledge, protection, and treatment. Although scams are nothing new, we need to increase our awareness and protect ourselves from these situations.
Why are scammers taking advantage of the coronavirus outbreak? The answer is, unfortunately, it’s easy. Everyone is looking for the latest updates on the pandemic.
Consumers want to know how COVID-19 will impact their shopping trips, store hours, restaurant availability, and more.
Here are some of the more prevalent coronavirus scams that consumers need to watch out for.
Schemes Related To the Economic Impact Payments
The IRS recently issued a warning about various schemes related to economic impact payments that are being sent to taxpayers under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
The IRS warns taxpayers to be aware of scammers who:
- Use words such as “stimulus check” or “stimulus payment” instead of the official term, “economic impact payment”
- Ask you to “sign up” for your economic impact payment check
- Contact you by phone, email, text, or social media for verification of personal and/or banking information to receive or speed up your economic impact payment
In most cases, the IRS will deposit the economic impact payment directly into an account that taxpayers previously provided on their tax returns. If you have previously filed your taxes but not provided direct-deposit information to the IRS, you will be able to provide their banking information online at irs.gov/coronavirus. If the IRS does not have your direct-deposit information, a check will be mailed to your address on file with the IRS.
Scammers have begun using phishing scams related to the coronavirus pandemic to obtain personal and financial information. Phishing scams usually involve unsolicited phone calls, emails, text messages, or fake websites that pose as legitimate organizations and try to convince you to provide personal or financial information.
Once scam artists obtain this information, they use it to commit identity or financial theft. Be wary of anyone claiming to be from an official organization, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization, or nongovernment websites with domain names that include the words “coronavirus” or “COVID-19,” as they are likely to be malicious.
Many charitable organizations are dedicated to helping those affected by COVID-19. Scammers often pose as legitimate charitable organizations to solicit donations from unsuspecting donors. Be wary of charities with names that are similar to more familiar or nationally known organizations.
Before donating to a charity, make sure that it is legitimate and never donate cash, gift cards, or funds by wire transfer. The IRS website has a tool to assist you in checking out the status of a charitable organization at irs.gov/charities-and-nonprofits.
Protecting Yourself From Scams
Fortunately, there are some things you can do to protect yourself from scams, including those related to the coronavirus pandemic:
- Don’t click on suspicious or unfamiliar links in emails, text messages, and instant messaging services. If you are not expecting the communication, do not click.
- Don’t answer a phone call if you don’t recognize the phone number. Let the call go to voicemail and check later to verify the caller.
- Never download email attachments unless you can verify that the sender is legitimate.
- Keep device and security software up-to-date, maintain strong passwords, and use multi-factor authentication. Keep passwords safe and secure. Do not share passwords.
- Never share personal or financial information via email, text message, or over the phone.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions and clarify legitimacy before answering questions.
- Don’t respond to texts, emails, or calls about checks from the government.
- Learn how to tell the difference between a real contact tracer and a scammer. Legitimate virus tracers need health information, not money or personal financial information.
- Ignore offers for vaccinations and miracle treatments or cures.
- Be wary of advertisements for test kits. Many test kits being marketed have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and are not necessarily accurate.
- Play it safe and hang up on robocalls. If you are wondering if a call was legitimate, simply call the company using the phone number you have on file.
The below list of actions is “Red Flag” actions. Typically, legitimate callers are understanding of a client’s apprehension to callers and will give out creditable information, allow you to call them back, or provide you with additional options to make you feel more comfortable. On the other hand, scammers and fraudsters tend to be rude, demanding, and sometimes aggressive. Be sure to double-check a sender’s information and credentials if the caller includes any of the following demands:
- Insists that you act now
- Includes a request for personal, financial, or medical information
- Directs you to open attachments and click on links
- Starts with a generic greeting and has spelling and grammatical errors throughout the message