By Molly C. Herndon.
It is unfortunate but true that disasters and poor economic times are often golden opportunities for scammers to take advantage of consumers.
In this post, during Military Consumer Protection Awareness Month, we highlight current COVID-19 related scams so that you and your clients can be vigilantly aware.
MilitaryConsumer.gov has reported scams related to COVID-19 contact tracing via text message. The scams work like the legitimate process of contract tracing: those who have had contact with people who have tested positive for COVID-19 will receive a text message from their state’s health department. Often these texts let the person know to expect a phone call from the health department. They may also ask the person if they’d like to sign up for daily health-related reminder texts during the 14-day quarantine time. The legitimate texts will not ask for payment or personal information. However, scammers are asking for bank account, Social Security numbers, and credit card information. Do not respond to these texts.
Vaccine and Testing Scams
There is not currently an approved vaccine or treatment for COVID-19. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reports that scammers are marketing unproven medications and drugs as treatments and cures for the disease.
At-home test kits are also being sold, and are not approved by the FDA. The only way to be tested is through a health care provider.
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is reporting COVID-19 related investment scams in which fraudsters have reported opportunities to invest in companies that are providing COVID-related medical equipment, treatments, or vaccines. The SEC website says, ‘The promotions often take the form of so-called “research reports” and make predictions of a specific “target price.” We urge investors to be wary of these promotions, and to be aware of the substantial potential for fraud at this time.’
During disasters, including pandemics, consumers are called to make charitable donations. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) advises consumers to research the organization and learn how much of your donation goes to the cause. You can also lookup the ratings of the charitable organization on sites like BBB Wise Giving Alliance and CharityWatch. Finally, the FTC warns that a hallmark of a charity scam is scammers asking for payment via gift card or wire transfer – never make a donation this way.
The FTC has created a scam bingo card that includes some of the most commonly used phrases in scams right now. Check it out.
Phishing Scams, Robocalls
While working remotely, we may all be spending more time online. Scammers are capitalizing on our fears by sending emails about offers for health insurance, “COVID relief loans,” and even legitimate-looking emails from the IRS. Even if the email looks authentic and comes from a company you are familiar with, do not respond with personal information. Call the company or organization to confirm the legitimacy of their request.
Even if you are listed on the National Do Not Call Registry, which blocks calls from real companies, you may still receive recorded calls or robocalls from scammers. These calls can be reported and blocked and the FTC gives instructions on how to do so on their website.
By being vigilant and wary of requests for personal information, we can all be wise consumers and protect our personal information during this difficult time.