Times of crisis tend to bring out both the best and the worst in people, and the coronavirus crisis is no exception. While we’ve seen many examples of neighbors helping neighbors and even strangers helping strangers, unfortunately there has also been a sharp rise in scams designed to take advantage of the fear and uncertainty that many people are feeling right now.
Here are 5 coronavirus scams that you should be on the lookout for.
1. Supposed texts or emails from government agencies — In this scam, thieves send text messages or emails to victims with links that supposedly lead to a coronavirus preparedness test. The messages are disguised to look like they’re coming from the Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization.
If you click on the link, however, you could unknowingly download a virus onto your phone or computer that gives the hacker access to your device. Thieves may then be able to capture passwords or other sensitive personal information that allows them to steal your money.
Remember that no government agency will ever contact you in this way for this reason. If you ever receive an email or text like this, delete it immediately and don’t click on any links.
2. Fake charity scams — Many people are eager to help others who may be suffering financially during times of crisis like this. Unfortunately, scammers are often quick to take advantage of this kind of generosity.
They do so by forming fake charities — like the Combatting Coronavirus Fund or the COVID-19 Give Back Fund — and then soliciting donations for them, usually over the telephone. A good rule of thumb: If you’ve never heard of a particular charity or don’t know the person who’s calling to solicit donations, don’t contribute any money to it. There’s a good chance that your well-intentioned donation could go straight into the pocket of a scammer.
If you think the charity might be legit and you want to donate, hang up the phone and do some research. If it’s not a scam, the caller will be happy to give you contact information so you can call back to make a donation after you’ve verified its legitimacy.
3. Reimbursement scams — This scam mainly targets business owners and businesspeople. Here’s how it works: The thief, using a hacked or spoofed email address that looks very similar to one the recipient would recognize, tells a victim he’s leading a committee ensuring the procurement of test kits, masks and ventilators to support cities hard-hit by COVID-19.
The scammer then asks the victim to wire transfer funds to a vendor to pay the outstanding balance, which is past due, assuring the victim that he will be reimbursed in full within a few days. The scammer also says he is unavailable to talk on the phone.
This is a sure-fire sign of a scam. You should never wire transfer funds to any supposed organization based on a message like this. Instead, simply delete the email without responding.
4. Fees to access stimulus benefits — Here, scammers contact victims by phone or email offering to help them obtain government benefits like stimulus checks or CARES Act funds. In order to provide help, they say the person needs to pay some kind of filing fee in advance or needs to click on an email link to obtain benefits.
In another version of this scam, thieves pose as government representatives and ask for bank account information so they can direct deposit funds into an account. What they really want to do is steal money from the account. Remember that the government never places phone calls or sends emails like this. If you receive one, hang up or delete the email.
5. Social Security scams — These types of scams happen year-round but thieves have come up with new twists to try to capitalize on the coronavirus crisis. For example, scammers send letters or emails to Social Security recipients threatening suspension of benefits due to COVID-19 if they don’t call a certain phone number.
When victims call the number, a scammer tries to get them to provide sensitive personal information or send cash or internet currency to an address in order to continue receiving benefits during the pandemic. No one from Social Security will ever initiate this kind of contact or request personal information over the phone, much less ask for any kind of payment.
Please contact us if you have questions about these or any other types of coronavirus scams.