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How to Protect Yourself Against Coronavirus Scams

Mar 26, 2020 Ben Gran

Key Takeaways

  • Coronavirus scams are rising rapidly.
  • Beware vaccine, treatment or test kit offers and cash demands from fake charities.
  • Spotting scams can help protect your and your loved ones' finances.

 

 

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:

 

What you can do next

Beware of suspicious texts, emails and phone calls, and talk to your loved ones — especially the elderly — about coronavirus scams. And never give out Social Security numbers, Medicare numbers or other personally identifiable information to someone you don’t know. For more guidance, check out the FTC’s tips for avoiding coronavirus scams Opens in new window. Also check your state attorney general's website for information on scam activity in your area.

Footnotes

 

Ben Gran is a freelance writer based in Des Moines, Iowa. He writes about personal finance, public policy, financial services, technology, and business.

 

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