Scammers are always looking for their next opportunity and what better time than a global pandemic when we’re all feeling anxious? According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), “the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) has seen an increase in reports of online extortion scams during the current ‘stay-at-home’ orders due to the COVID-19 crisis.” We can expect an increase in phone, email, text, and even door-to-door fraud, so I wanted to share some best practices for avoiding Coronavirus scams.
Coronavirus scams to watch out for
Scams have become common in recent years, but now we’re seeing scams pertaining specifically to the virus. The person trying to contact you might be posing as someone from the CDC or WHO. They might be offering access to testing or a remedy – and if you’re ill, that probably sounds really good. But, do not respond to any texts, click on any email links, or offer any personal information.
And it goes without saying, but do not open the door! You don’t want the scammer to gain physical access to and then there’s the danger of them infecting you or vice versa. If you are ill, you should be communicating with medical professionals, like your doctor, staff from your doctor’s office or a telemedicine professional referred to you through your health insurance.
“Do good” scams
So many people and businesses are in need right now, but be careful with correspondence requesting a purchase or donation. If you’re making a payment of any kind, use only web addresses that begin with “https://” (the “s” stands for “secure”), and/or if you click the padlock icon to the left of the URL, the message should say that the site is secure. If you have the means, I would encourage supporting causes you believe in right now, and there are lots of legitimate ways to do that.
Another scam that you should be aware of is a tax- or stimulus-related scam. Scammers might demand tax payment or request to “confirm information” for your Economic Impact Payments. The IRS will not call, text, or e-mail you, according to official intel. If they do need information, they will send you a letter. But rest assured, if you’ve previously received a direct deposit from the IRS or Social Security, there is nothing you need to do – and this applies to seniors, too. If you have questions, the best practice is to visit the Coronavirus Tax Relief page on IRS.gov, which can be found from the homepage of the IRS site. You can also enter payment info on IRS.gov under “Get My Payment.”
Unemployment or small business scams
Scammers might try to approach you regarding your unemployment claim or small business loan request. Like with the other scams, do not provide any information by phone or click any links sent via text. If the request comes by email, respond only to official email addresses with the [state name].gov, labor.[state name].gov or SBA.gov. And check email addresses very carefully – spelling may only be off by a couple of letters. To be extra careful, go directly to the official .gov email and look up your case. If there is something you need to complete, it will be there.
Bottom line: If someone calls you and you don’t recognize the number, let it go to voicemail. If they do catch you on the line, do not provide any personal information, like bank account or social security numbers, even if they are offering to help you get your refund faster or if they claim you owe them money. They might sound legitimate and may become forceful. You can ask them to mail you the info – and do not provide your address…they should have it if they are legitimate. And if they won’t listen to reason, simply hang up.
This is something I just learn about that I wanted to share with you. We’re seeing an increase in adopting and fostering pets, and not surprisingly, Fraud.org is reporting an increase in animal-related scams. Scammers are posting photos and listings for cute animals who need homes. When you contact them, the requests for money begins. If you are looking to adopt a pet, make sure you are working with a reputable agency. A good place to start is with the Humane Society or ASPCA.