Stimulus checks. PPE. Social distancing. N95.
We’ve learned plenty of new vocabulary words since the COVID-19 pandemic took over our lives. One we already knew remains on the list: scams. The Federal Trade Commission has received more than 15,000 COVID-19 related consumer fraud and scam complaints — and almost half of those were in the first nine days of April.
It’s an unfortunate truth that when times are uncertain and people are scared, scammers are all too ready to take advantage of the situation. This year, with the coronavirus disrupting our daily routines and changing the way we interact, we may find ourselves especially susceptible to these criminals. Protect yourself with these tips.
1. If you’re expecting a stimulus check from the federal government, you should also expect the scammers to try to cheat you out of your money. The Federal Trade Commission reported in a blog post that those who are in line for paper checks — rather than direct deposit — shouldn’t expect their paper checks before May. If you receive a check in the mail before May, or you get a check when you’re on the list for direct deposit, it’s a scam. The IRS is not calling, texting or emailing the public about the stimulus payments. And the IRS will not send you a check for too much money and ask you to send the overpayment back in the form of gift cards, cash or money transfer.
The U.S. government will not call you or email you to ask for information in order to send your money. These scams count on getting your private information — your social security number or passwords, for example. Other email scams include phishing — asking to verify personal information — for charitable contributions, airline refunds, or other financial relief help.
For more information on exactly how much money to expect and when, go to https://www.irs.gov/coronavirus/economic-impact-payments.
Online Video Teleconferencing
Are you using online video websites to stay connected with family and friends?
The FBI warns of online predators hijacking online video teleconferencing with pornographic images or hate language. To prevent this, experts suggest requiring a password for your video calls, and to review your computer’s settings to ensure only you are able to share your screen. Check out the Better Business Bureau’s tips.
Never download software from a source you don’t know or open attachments or links on emails from senders you don’t know.
Fake CDC Caller or CDC Email
The FBI put out a warning in late March urging everyone, including seniors, to be prepared for online scammers pretending to be the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC is extremely unlikely to send out emails. If you receive one from someone purporting to be with the CDC or another official-sounding organization, don’t download attachments or click on links. That could allow malware to infect your computer or steal personal information.
According to the FBI, there are also websites and apps that claim to track COVID-19 cases around the world — those apps too may infect and lock your device, and scammers will then demand money to unlock your phone, tablet or computer.
Oregon’s Department of Justice is keeping an eye on price gouging, and wants you to do the same. The state has a law against “unconscionably excessive prices” for essential goods and services (think water, food, fuel and other things necessary to keep you alive and healthy). It’s considered “unconscionably excessive” if the price is 15 percent or more above the price it was at before the market disruption started. This also applies to Amazon, Facebook and other online retailers. If you see what you suspect is price gouging, you can report your concerns to the Oregon Consumer Protection Division.
When in doubt, check the spelling. A common way scammers try to send you to the wrong websites for misinformation is simple — a slight misspelling of the website. Manually type the web address into your browser, instead of using links. Another trick? Look for web addresses or links that end in .com instead of .gov. For example, the IRS is at IRS.gov, not IRS.com, though the latter looks like an official tax website.
Too Good To Be True
And remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. The FBI has issued a press release warning to all Americans to be cautious about people selling products that claim to offer prevention, treatment, diagnosis or a cure for COVID-19. People may be selling fake sanitizer, face masks and other personal protective equipment.
Some states have already issued warnings after seniors have received calls from people claiming to have home testing or offering a vaccine — and asking the seniors for payment over the phone to reserve one. There is no COVID-19 vaccine at this time.
The FBI has provided a great Q&A that can help you avoid these types of scams.
For accurate information on the COVID-19 pandemic, go to www.cdc.gov or www.coronavirus.gov. And if you’re concerned about getting the right equipment or healthcare for the virus, reach out to your primary care physician.