By Melissa M. Leedom, CPA, Secure Aging
With the economic and emotional fear from COVID-19 still very real, Americans are more vulnerable to scams that may try to steal their money or personal information. In fact, as of early July, Americans have lost a staggering $78.7 million due to fraud this year, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Much of that is tied to COVID-19 scams.
Additionally, there are more than 100 million “phishing” emails blocked every day by Google—of which 18 million are specifically related to the coronavirus. Phishing emails are messages that try to obtain a person’s personal information for fraudulent use.
There are also 40,000 domain names online that contain the word coronavirus, making it harder to determine which sites are legitimate.
Although seniors are often a target for scams of any type, just about everyone is vulnerable right now to potential scams. It’s because more people are bored and spending time with their electronic devices. Additionally, people are afraid, and fear is a big motivator used by scammers.
Here are several examples of the types of scams related to COVID-19 right now—followed by a few ways to help protect yourself and your personal information.
7 COVID-19 Related Scam Examples
1. Get blood and saliva from COVID survivors. In an effort to get immunity against the virus, people search online for ideas. There are online marketplaces that claim to have blood or saliva from coronavirus survivors. They claim that if you buy and use these bodily fluids, you’ll help protect your body against COVID. However, it’s a hoax. The scammers take your payment details and never send a product.
2. Stimulus payment scams. There are several examples of stimulus payment scams. For instance, in your email inbox, you get messages with subject lines such as “Pay Advance: Stimulus Improvement.” The email prompts you to provide personal information via a link. Or, you receive phone calls or regular mail supposedly from the IRS, claiming to need your bank account information. Another stimulus payment scam: You receive an email or letter saying that you will get a stimulus payment, but you need to call someone to verify your personal information.
3. Charitable contribution request. You receive a phone call or email from a charity that claims to be a COVID relief fund and that is asking for money. However, charity is not real.
4. COVID “cures,” home tests, or other products. There are scams related to COVID-19 vaccines (there are none yet), home tests (also none yet) cures, air filters, and other products. The phone call, emails, or texts you receive tout the benefit of what they are selling, but they are not real.
5. Contact tracer scams. In this type of scam, you are contacted by someone who claims that you have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. However, the “contact tracer” goes on to ask you for personal information, such as your birthdate, Social Security number, or banking information. A real contact tracer would not ask you for this information.
6. Social Security benefits. A person contacts you to say that you must provide personal information to continue to receive regular Social Security benefit payments. He or she will say they need this information due to COVID-19.
7. Tech support scams. With more people working from home, it’s no surprise that you may be concerned about tech trouble with your devices. With this type of scam, someone contacts you and says they can help fix your computer problem by accessing it remotely or by getting you to provide personal data to fix your tech problems. (One way to help avoid this: Do not google the phone number for a company’s tech support line, as the options you find may lead to scammers. Instead, go to the company’s website to get the number from their “Contact” section.)
How to Prevent and Fight Against COVID-19 Scams
- Do not provide any personal information to someone contacting you, such as your Social Security number, bank account number, credit card information, Medicare ID, or your driver’s license number.
- If you don’t know the person, do not send money via a peer-to-peer payment app such as Venmo or Zelle or through prepaid gift cards.
- Trust your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right to you, you have the right to say no.
- Verify charities before you give money. Two places to look up legitimate charities are Give.org and Guidestar.org.
- For Social Security related scams, contact the Social Security Administration’s Inspector General office.
- If you are a victim of a scam, place a fraud alert with the credit bureaus (Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian), and place a security freeze on your credit report.
- Report scams to the Federal Trade Commission’s complaint page.
- If you are a senior and unsure where to obtain additional help related to a potential scam, contact The Eldercare Locator, which is a service of the U.S. Administration on Aging. They can be reached at 1-800-677-6116.
Call Secure Aging to Find Out How We Can Help Seniors With Financial Management
At Secure Aging in Bradenton, we transform the weight of the world into a sigh of relief for our senior clients and their concerned family members. The mission of Secure Aging is to protect and preserve our client’s independence and dignity through careful and thoughtful financial and care management. As our clients’ age, it is their desire to remain independent and age with dignity. Our services protect our clients from talented con artists looking to exploit and deplete the financial resources of our vulnerable seniors. Secure Aging helps families in Manatee County and Sarasota County and in and around the communities of Anna Maria, Bradenton, Bradenton Beach, Ellenton, Holmes Beach, Lakewood Ranch, Longboat Key, Myakka City, Palmetto, Parrish, and Sarasota. Call us at 941-761-9338, or visit us online at www.secureaging.com.