Experts call it “the second disaster.” Following any disaster or crisis, scams soon follow, many of them targeting seniors. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 crisis is no different.
Since the beginning of the year, COVID-19 scams have bilked consumers of nearly $6 million, according to the Federal Trade Commission — and that's just what has been reported to the agency. The average median loss to these scams for each consumer is about $600. The FTC has received more than 8,400 coronavirus-related complaints from consumers relating to scammers who are calling, texting, tweeting, emailing, you name it, using the coronavirus to catch seniors off guard.
Fraudsters use the day's headlines in their pitches, and these “new” scams can easily fool you if you’re not aware. At The Arbor Company, we care for seniors, and that includes keeping them safe. While we’re all staying safe from COVID-19 by isolating, we can protect ourselves and our senior loved ones from COVID-19 scams by getting educated and knowing the warning signs.
Here’s a sampling of the scams reported to the FTC:
COVID-19 Scam Voicemails: Consumers receive voicemail messages offering “free” testing kits for COVID-19 or free delivery of face masks, hand sanitizer and toilet paper. Other scams offer duct cleaning or sanitizing services, with a promise they’ll “protect your family from COVID-19.”
Government checks: Many people are reporting texts, emails and social media messages about the stimulus package, purporting to “verify” personal and banking information. Though many consumers will receive checks from the federal government as part of the coronavirus stimulus package, no one will call or text citizens to verify personal information or bank account details in order to "release" the funds. Similarly, the government will NOT ask for a fee to receive the funds. The Treasury Department expects most people to receive their payments via direct-deposit information that the department has on file from prior tax filings.
Charity scams: Hackers will duplicate nonprofit websites or pose as a legitimate charity and call for donations. Never donate by way of a telemarketer or a robocall. Instead, go directly to the charity and make your donation through its website or a verified address.
Fake testing. In Kentucky, scammers have set up pop-up outdoor ‘testing’ sites for COVID-19, charging exorbitant fees of $240 and up for fake tests. If you need a COVID-19 test, call your doctor. Do not use a drive-through or pop-up site unless you’ve verified that it’s run by your local health authority or hospital.
Vaccine scams: Fraudsters are calling seniors with claims they have a coronavirus vaccination or preventative medicine; they demand over-the-phone payment to reserve a dose.
Investment Scams. Impostors are promoting schemes falsely promising to raise capital for companies manufacturing surgical masks and gowns, producing ventilators, distributing small-molecule drugs and other preventative pharmaceuticals, or manufacturing vaccines and miracle cures. Others are seeking to take advantage of concerns with the volatility in the securities markets to promote "safe" investments with "guaranteed returns" including investments tied to gold, silver and other commodities; oil and gas; and real estate. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Never invest through an unknown broker who contacts you by phone, email or at your door. Before you make ANY investments, remember the high potential for fraud right now. Be particularly wary of any company claiming the ability to prevent, detect or cure coronavirus. For information on how to avoid investment fraud, visit the website of the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Phishing and supply scams. Scammers impersonate health organizations (such as WHO and the CDC) and businesses in emails to gather personal and financial information or sell fake test kits, supplies, vaccines or cures for COVID-19.
Follow these basic safety tips to protect yourself from COVID-19 and other scams.
- Never respond to calls or texts from unknown numbers or any others that appear suspicious
- Do not share personal or financial information via email, text messages, or over the phone
- Be especially wary any time you're pressured to share any information or make a payment immediately
- Never click any links in a text message. (If a friend sends you a text with a suspicious link that seems out of character, call first to confirm they weren't hacked.)
- Scammers often spoof phone numbers to trick you into answering or responding. Remember that government agencies will never call you to ask for personal information or money.
If you have a senior loved one who lives alone — or is isolating now due to the coronavirus — be sure to alert him or her to these scams. Isolation is one of the key risk factors that make seniors vulnerable to scams and fraud. Forewarned is forearmed!
Finally, if you’re contacted by a potential scammer, help others by reporting the scam. Visit the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center to report suspected or confirmed scams. You can also stay up-to-date on the latest scams by visiting the FTC’s coronavirus page at ftc.gov/coronavirus.