Scammers are targeting COVID-19 fears
By Samantha Lyles
People are responding to the threat of COVID-19 in a variety of ways, like making charitable donations, showing support for healthcare workers and staying home to slow the spread of the virus. But while adversity brings out noble instincts in some, others are exploiting pandemic fears for their own gain.
The Federal Trade Commission is tracking a number of COVID-19 scams and they’re urging the public to be on the lookout.
1. Hang up on robocalls immediately without pressing any numbers. Criminals are phoning people to pitch everything from fake coronavirus treatments to false job opportunities. Typically, these tricksters ask you to press a number to speak to a live operator, but that key press lets them know they’ve reached a live number and it could lead to a flood of similar robocalls.
2. Those offers of miracle vaccinations or home test kits? Fake. Crooks are hawking dozens of quack nostrums that cannot treat or prevent COVID-19. There is no panacea toothpaste or tonic, and (as of now) there are no FDA-authorized home test kits for the Coronavirus.
3. Online sellers are hiking up prices on goods such as hand sanitizer and cleaning products. Aside from price gouging, these sellers could be diluting products to stretch their stock further, so they’re selling products that are overpriced and half-strength or less. In some cases, sellers are simply collecting premium prices from panicked customers and vanishing without ever fulfilling these orders. Do your homework and be sure anyone you do business with online is reputable, and not some recently established fly-by-night operation.
4 – Beware of anyone calling about your federal stimulus check. IRS Criminal Investigations has issued a warning that scammers are calling and emailing people and posing as IRS agents. These scammers insist that the IRS needs your financial information (bank account numbers, PayPal info, etc.) in order to process your stimulus check. If this happens to you, delete the email or end the phone call immediately. An alternate scam, offering a cash advance on your stimulus check, should be similarly dismissed.
5 – Fake charities are soliciting donations on behalf of displaced workers, hungry families, healthcare professionals, and every other imaginable group. While this is certainly a time of great need, please route your giving to legitimate charitable organizations. Visit websites directly, like healthcareready.org or www.feedingamerica.org, to be certain your donations are actually reaching those who need your help.
City of Darlington Public Safety Director Kelvin Washington says that it’s terrible – and predictable – that these sorts of criminal opportunists crawl out from under their rocks during times of crisis.
“It’s greed. Just greed accompanied with a criminal element,” says Chief Washington. “It’s unfortunate that people would try to do these things at a time like this. But there are people that are like that, and it’s kind of sad.”
Should you find yourself targeted by a persistent scammer, or have questions about whether a charity or organization is for real, Washington asks that you reach out for help police.
“If you have any questions or concerns as to the legitimacy of the people who are calling, please call our office and we will assist you and check it out,” he says. “Most of the folks who are trying to take advantage of people, once they realize the law enforcement is involved and checking into them, they normally kind of back away.”
A few other tips from the FTC:
•Don’t respond to texts and emails about checks from the government. The details are still being worked out. Anyone who tells you they can get you the money now is a scammer.
•Don’t click on links from sources you don’t know. They could download viruses onto your computer or device.
•Watch for emails claiming to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or experts saying they have information about the virus. For the most up-to-date information about the Coronavirus, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
To keep up with the latest advice, bookmark ftc.gov/coronavirus and check back for updates.