In times of crisis, when many people are experiencing fear and desperation, scammers run-rampant. Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic is no exception.
From promises of a (non-existent) vaccine in exchange for payment to the sale of blood from COVID-19 survivors, there’s no shortage of creativity in the scams popping up from this crisis.
Take note of a few of these fraudulent schemes so you don’t become the next victim.
Face Mask Scam
Face masks have become a hot commodity, especially in states requiring they be worn in public places. Unfortunately several fake online retailers have set up shop, collecting money and financial information in exchange for masks that never show up. Before handing over your credit card information, make sure the mask you’re purchasing is from a reputable company with verified contact information.
There is currently no vaccine available for COVID-19, but scammers are calling claiming there is one –– and they’ll want you to pay to reserve your spot to receive it. They may say they’re from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), or, in some cases, a third party with knowledge about a vaccine the government is trying to keep secret. Either way, it’s more than likely a scam.
As of May 7th, the FTC has reportedly sent warning letters to over 120 businesses attempting to sell products or services that supposedly treat or cure the virus. This includes everything from UV light therapy to air filters, and more. While some of these companies do sell a real product or service, many of their claims related to the virus are unsubstantiated and may be misleading.
Scammers have been working overtime to get their hands on stimulus payments, sending out phishing emails, making phone calls claiming to be from the IRS, and more. Arm yourself with a few key facts to help you avoid giving your money away.
- The IRS will not call or email you asking for specific financial information.
- The IRS is not using a third party to expedite the payment process.
- The IRS does not need your bank username and/or password to send your payment.
- Payment will only come from the U.S. Treasury.
The worry over COVID-19 testing shortages has made it easy for scammers to market –– and sell –– at-home testing kits. Using robocalls and online forms, they often collect payment information and deliver tests that either aren’t approved by the FDA, or they deliver nothing at all. While the FDA recently approved the first at-home COVID-19 test, others may provide inaccurate, untrackable results.
Perhaps one of the strangest pandemic scams is the black market sale of blood and saliva from a “coronavirus survivor.” (Really.) The belief is these can treat those infected with the virus –– at a steep price, of course. But buyer beware. Not only is this not proven, chances are you’ll hand over your money for nothing in return.
Looking to lend a hand? Make sure you don’t fall for one of the many charity scams common at times like these. For instance, if you receive an email that directs you to donate by clicking on a link, think twice. Or if you receive a call asking for payment over the phone before you’ve had time to verify if the charity is legitimate, stop. Do your research to find out if an organization is reputable first. (Read more FTC tips on avoiding charity scams here.)
Unemployment Benefits Scam
The process of collecting unemployment can be a pain –– even more so when you find out you’ve been the victim of identity theft. One such scam led to millions of dollars in losses when a Nigerian crime ring used information from previous data breaches to fraudulently apply –– and receive –– unemployment benefits. Another scam has fraudsters calling victims offering to help claim unemployment benefits in exchange for social security numbers and birthdates.
[Learn more about unemployment insurance fraud and what to do if it happens to you.]
Receiving a lucrative offer for a work-from-home position is particularly appealing at a time like this –– especially if you’ve lost your current job. Unfortunately some scammers are capitalizing on this by getting job seekers to hand over financial information or even send a wire transfer as part of the application process. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) warns, “If a job offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
Protect Your Finances with Regular Credit Checks
If you are the victim of fraud or identity theft, you’ll want to find out as soon as possible to limit the damage done. That’s why it’s important to regularly monitor your credit for accounts and other information that doesn’t look familiar to you.
Here’s the good news: Between now and April 2021 you can check your credit reports weekly for free. (Here’s how.) You can also review and monitor your TransUnion credit report and easily report any errors with Upturn’s free tool. (Sign up here.)
Not sure what you should be looking for on your credit report? Read this.