The coronavirus pandemic is bringing out the best in Americans: Across the country, folks are checking on neighbors, giving to charity, supporting small businesses and helping each other cope with isolation and fear. Unfortunately, the crisis has also given rise to unscrupulous people trying to take advantage of others.
The FBI cites a significant increase in fraudulent activity related to the COVID-19 pandemic. They expect states where the virus has spread widely — like New York, Washington and California — to be most affected by related scams. Scammers attack via phone, email, text — and even in person. And as with the virus itself, the elderly — long the targets of fraudsters — may be the most vulnerable.
The good news is that you can learn to identify these scams and help protect yourself and your loved ones.
How to spot a coronavirus scam
The FBI says you should watch out for:
- Scammers posing as charities and demanding money upfront. Legitimate charities don't use such aggressive fundraising methods.
- Fake “phishing” emails or text messages that claim to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or other public health organizations. Some emails are sophisticated: They feature the logo of the World Health Organization or other public health authorities and tell people to click to download information about the virus.
- People promising faster delivery of government relief checks or benefits — if you send them money in advance. In particular, look out for text messages touting things like “Your $1,000 payment is available” if you click. Government checks for the coronavirus, along with other benefit checks, are processed according to established protocols.
- Offers of vaccines, treatments or testing kits. In particular, Medicare beneficiaries have been getting robocalls touting “special virus kits” — and asking for Medicare ID numbers. But there's currently no vaccine, treatment or cure for COVID-19, and testing is available only through local medical or government authorities.
If you're contacted by someone you don't know, a number you don't recognize or an organization you've never heard of, beware. If they make big promises related to COVID-19 and ask for money, it's probably a scam.
How to protect yourself
Scammers are exploiting the fact that many people are now working from home and relying more heavily on technology. These measures can help reduce your chance of becoming a victim: