No pandemic shutdown for scammers
COVID-19 may have shut down portions of the economy and put restrictions on Americans’ daily lives, but cyber scams and other efforts to defraud people continue to thrive.
“Scammers are tapping into the uncertainty related to the global pandemic,” said Chris Orestis, a nationally recognized senior care expert and president of LifeCare Xchange.
Here are common scams to look out for:
• Dishonest retailers.
Panic at the beginning of the quarantine resulted in a shortage of toilet paper, hand sanitizer, soap and masks. This led to many dishonest retailers and fake products popping up.
“The fear of scarcity created a gateway for scammers,” Orestis said. “Fraudulent online retailers are showcasing these items as bait, especially medical supplies.”
He recommended sticking with reputable stores. Scammers also try to sell products to prevent or cure COVID-19, even though they don’t exist.
“Anyone who receives a message from someone selling any of these items should not respond,” he added.
• Phony advertisements.
Scammers also try to advertise hard-to-find products through social media, email or pop-up ads. Avoid clicking on anything unfamiliar, because cybercriminals may be trying to steal your personal information or infect your computer with a virus.
“Be cautious of people who try to contact you under odd usernames and do not have a profile picture,” Orestis advised. “If anyone asks for your personal information or invites you to click on a link, block them immediately or report them as spam.”
• Government or organization disguises.
Is a government official or someone from the CDC or the World Health Organization trying to contact you? Maybe, but probably not. According to Orestis, scammers often try to convince potential victims that they are with a legitimate agency or group.
“For example, an email might claim that there have been new COVID-19 cases in your area and ask for your personal information to see if you have been in contact with anyone infected,” he said. “Be suspicious of any COVID-19 related emails and use only official government websites to get information about the virus.”
• Fake charities and crowdfunding.
Criminals have also created counterfeit charities and crowdfunding sites. They ask for money in the form of cash, gift cards and wire transfers.
“Real charities will never use these resources,” Orestis said. “Be sure to use reputable sites and research the charities you want to donate to for coronavirus relief.”
• Phone scams.
Phones are still the number one way scammers target seniors, both through calls and text messages. The Federal Communications Commission warns about these methods being used by people who claim to be the IRS or have coronavirus treatments, at-home testing kits and vaccinations.
“If you receive a robotic voice call, do not press any buttons or return any calls,” Orestis said. “Hang up immediately. If you receive text messages regarding this information, do not respond or click on any links.”
It’s important to apply that wariness both off and online.
“The more conscious people are of how scammers are trying to trick them, the less likely they are to fall for one of those tricks,” he added.