Not only has the pandemic done damage to people’s finances, but thieves are also upping their game and employing new coronavirus-related scams. Learn what they are and how to avoid them now.
As if coronavirus hasn’t done enough to ravage people’s financial lives, consumers also must beware of new fraud schemes that have developed with the pandemic.
Scammers always keep up with the times, and this is no exception.
Keep reading to learn about the newest scams related to the pandemic – and most important, how to protect yourself from them.
See related: How to protect your credit during the coronavirus crisis
Coronavirus scams are coming from all angles
Eva Velasquez, president and CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center, said the COVID-19 pandemic has led to scams that attack from all angles, including robocalls, phishing emails and text scams.
Other schemes have involved stimulus checks, contact tracing, door-to-door workers and charitable giving scams, just to name a few, she added.
Velasquez she has not seen the scope, scale, efficiency or speed from scammers around a single event in her 30-year career.
Fraudsters are preying on unemployed people with mystery shopper scams and job reopening scams; they are perfecting online shopping and Zoom scams because so many people are working from home now; and they are leveraging the fear of the pandemic with contact tracing, fake vaccine and cure scams.
And the majority of these scams are targeting personal information, such as credit card numbers or Social Security numbers, to commit identity theft down the road, Velasquez said.
A popular scam involves nonexistent COVID tests
Robert Siciliano, CEO of ProtectNow, said criminals are capitalizing on COVID-19 and trying to steal credit card information by sending emails and text messages to scared citizens.
These emails typically offer fake tests or nonexistent personal protective equipment, such as face masks, gloves, air-purifying respirators, eye protection, etc.
At this point, Siciliano said, all emails or text messages that come in with any type of COVID-19 solicitation might be designed to steal credit card numbers, so you must simply delete them.
Scammers are posing as charity organizations
Rachel Willson is investigative coordinator at The Smith Training Centre and The Smith Investigation Agency, where she and her team specialize in dealing with online scams and other internet dangers.
“It seems as though every day, a new scam regarding the coronavirus is appearing among us,” Willson said.
These scams typically involve asking people for money for what looks like a charity organization that is bringing aid, assistance or relief to individuals affected by the virus.
If you’re being contacted to donate via email or phone, make sure to do thorough research on that “company” before donating. But it’s always best to simply stick with reputable and well-known charities, Willson advised.
Phishing scams come in many forms
Will Ellis, head of research at Privacy Australia, elaborated on pandemic phishing scams.
He said these scams come in the form of messages or emails and aim to trick people into thinking they are paying for a legitimate product or service, and then handing over their details to the criminal.
It can be difficult to spot these scams at times because cybercriminals put a lot of effort in to make their malicious websites look legitimate.
The best way to spot it is to look for spelling mistakes in the messages, double-check that the email address of the sender is a legitimate one and check links before clicking on them.
A good way to check a link is to hover over it (without clicking on it) and you’ll see the entire URL in a lower corner of your browser so you can tell if it’s legitimate.
Criminals will try to replicate email addresses as much as they can, often naming the account so it seems like it comes from a company or replacing the letter “I” with a lowercase “L.”
Be vigilant if you receive an email or message and ask yourself why you might be getting that email and take the right precautions before clicking on any links or handing over your personal information.
A cleaning service scam promises to scrub coronavirus
According to ABC News, scammers have come up with a sales pitch for a cleaning service that promises to eliminate the coronavirus from the air in your home.
Here’s the audio transcript of the robocall:
“Protect your loved ones from the coronavirus. For only $79 our highly trained technicians will do a full air duct cleaning and sanitation to make sure that the air you breathe is free of bacteria. So don’t hesitate, press 0 and have your duct system cleaned and sanitized now. Press 9 to be removed from this list.”
Back in March, a federal court ordered the shutdown of a website called CornavirusMedicalKit.com, which offered visitors a coronavirus vaccine kit for a shipping charge of only $4.95.
Safeguard your personal and financial information
Velasquez said you should not give out any personal information – especially your credit card details – if the request is not from a legitimate and trusted source.
Consumers should also limit the number of times they give out personal information and provide it only if it is required, she warned.
If your credit card number is stolen, contact your credit card company, change your passwords and PINs, closely monitor your account activity and request and review copies of your credit report.
And if you think your account has been compromised, freeze your credit, Velasquez said; it’s an easy, proactive step you can take to keep your identity safe.
Willson said consumers must not operate out of fear because it’s usually accompanied by panic.
And when people are scared, they don’t make informed decisions, she explained.
“Try and remain calm and if things seem off or suspicious, particularly with phone calls or emails – disregard them,” Willson said.
Tips to avoid coronavirus scams
The FTC also lists specific ways to avoid coronavirus scams on its website, as outlined below:
- Distinguish between a real contact tracer and scammer by keeping in mind that legitimate tracers never ask for money or personal financial information, only health data.
- Don’t respond to any communications regarding checks from the government.
- Pay no attention to offers for coronavirus vaccinations and home test kits.
- Simply hang up on robocalls, which could be pitching anything from work-from-home job rackets to inexpensive health insurance.
- Be careful about emails claiming to be from the CDC or the World Health Organization. And if you want to find the latest pandemic information use sites like Coronavirus.gov and USA.gov/coronavirus.
- Never click on links from unknown sources.
- If you want to make a donation, be sure to vet the source — and don’t donate in cash, with a gift card or by wiring money.