As we quarantine to protect ourselves, our families and our communities, there are those who are taking advantage of our insecurities. Scammers are working overtime to gain access to your personal information and your money. In the first few months of the Coronavirus, the FTC reported over 13,000 complaints with $9.59M in total fraud loss.1 Unfortunately, the feeling of public distress and concern brought on by a pandemic provides the perfect platform for fraudsters to trick the average American.
Nevertheless, you do not need to feel helpless — there are things you can look out for and actions to take to avoid falling prey to scammers. We want to help you identify some of the most common scams across the country and address what to do if you find yourself a victim of fraud.
What Scams to Look out For
1. Threats to Your CARES Act Stimulation Payment
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, commonly referred to as the CARES Act, includes stimulus checks for qualified Americans. Fraudsters are eager to get their hands on some of that cash. Here are some of the common scams you need to protect yourself against:
- Do not respond to text, emails or calls that say they are “from the government” and need your banking information to deposit your stimulus check. While details are still being finalized, the current government plan is to create a secure online portal for Americans to submit their direct deposit issue (unless they already e-filed for 2019).
- Do not download attachments requesting personal information in order to get your stimulus check. If you have already filed your 2019 taxes, they will use your information from that. If not, they will use your 2018 tax filing information.
- Do not download apps to your phone that claim to get you your stimulus funds faster — there have been reported cases of hackers using apps to gain access to your phone, locking it and holding it ransom.
2. Fake Coronavirus-Related Charities
With millions out of jobs, healthcare workers risking their health to serve others and a shortage of key resources, many charities or crowd-sourced funding campaigns have popped up. These difficult times compel many people to give back where they can. Before you follow that kindhearted impulse, take these precautions to make sure you are not funding a scam:
- Unfamiliar with the charity? Check to see if they are listed on reputable sites like GuideStar or Give.
- Don’t just donate over the phone; check their website first. Scammers have also been known to call to inquire about a donation pledge you made previously that you “may not remember” — it may be a scam.
- A lot of GoFundMe or similar crowdfunding sites have been leveraged to support suddenly unemployed restaurant and entertainment venue staff. Unfortunately, it’s very easy to make up a fake fund that looks like it’s benefitting a cause you care about, but in reality, the funds are diverted elsewhere. Contact the manager or someone else from the organization outside of the crowdfunding platform (via phone, email, etc.) to confirm the fundraiser is legitimate.
3. Coronavirus Prevention and Treatment Products: Testing Kits, Vaccines or Specialty Air Filters
At the time of publication, home testing kits or vaccines are not available. There are no such things as air filters specifically designed to remove COVID-19 from the air in your house.
Testing is available through your local hospital (start with this self-checker from the CDC if you are experiencing symptoms of coronavirus), but these tests are not delivered to your home.
If you receive a call, text message or email offering to sell you any sort of coronavirus vaccine or at home testing kit, do not respond, and immediately share the incident with the FTC.
4. Suspicious Offers to Run Errands or Sell In-Demand Products
As we commit to sheltering in place guidelines, many will turn to delivery services for many basic needs beyond food. The high-risk elderly community — one of the groups most encouraged to stay home – is also potentially not as techy-savvy or eager to use app-based services. This group has been the target of scammers looking to make quick cash by asking for advanced payment for their services, only to never return with the promised goods.
If someone you don’t know offers to help, be cautious. Try to only use friends, family or friends of friends who can vouch for that person. If you do choose to order products online, make sure to purchase the items from a vendor you trust or have purchased from in the past to help ensure that the item you ordered is the item you’ll get.
What to Do If You’re a Victim of a Coronavirus-Related Scam
Every situation is different — use your best judgement for how to approach the situation. Use the general suggestions below to help decide what you should do.
- Contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and file a claim so that they can start investigating the issue. Save your claim number — it will help you in the second step.
- Collect and save any evidence you may have from the incident. That way, if the incident happens to have a negative impact on your credit score, you will be prepared to dispute the error with the credit bureau.
- Change your passwords on any personal account that may have been compromised. If you use the same password for other accounts, make sure to update those login credentials as well.
1FTC. (2020). FTC COVID-19 Complaints January 1, 2020 – April 7, 2020.