When it comes to making money from tragedy, scammers know no bounds. Even in the midst of a dangerous worldwide pandemic, their scummy minds are busy concocting nefarious schemes to take advantage of peoples’ fears in order to add to their own coffers. But armed with the right information, you can stop these schemes in their deadly tracks.
Many scams involve text messages, emails, and phone calls — and even some impressive looking mailings. These messages and phone calls might advertise a (bogus) cure or offers to be tested for coronavirus. Whatever you do, DO NOT click on any link within such emails or text messages since they are likely to lead to malware and spyware payloads. Data mining and phishing is usually their goal — and that’s likely to be in the form of sensitive information such as passwords to your financial accounts. If you need to crosscheck for facts, check cdc.gov/coronavirus for the most updated information.
From the FCC website regarding COVID-19 scams:
Some text scams are impersonating government agencies. The FCC recently learned of a text scam claiming to be from the “FCC Financial Care Center” and offering $30,000 in COVID-19 relief. There is no FCC program to provide relief funds to consumers. The text is likely a phishing attempt to get banking or other personal information from victims. The BBB is also warning of a text message scam impersonating the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services informs recipients that they must take a “mandatory online COVID-19 test” using the included link.
The modus operandi of most scammers is to impersonate government agencies. This particular epidemic is no exception. They are pretending to represent FEMA, the IRS, and even the World Health Organization. You might even receive a text message that sounds as if it came from a next door neighbor. According to to the National Security Council, these messages are quite fake. Such messages will announce rumors and conspiracy theories in order to entice you to respond. FEMA is currently tracking these rumors — and they can get pretty creative.
And, of course, there are the ubiquitous robocalls. Obviously, some of the “tells” are bad grammar and the use of text-to-speech software. Do not respond to ANY phone number listed in a robocall message. You will likely be connected with someone who intends to extract banking information and possibly your Social Security Number (for identity theft). Understand that government agencies will NEVER call you. So, delete and block those phone numbers!
Some of these messages are targeting high risk individuals with diabetes, offering free COVID-19 test kits with a “free” diabetic monitor thrown it. Other “offers” are for fake cures and HVAC duct cleaning which is “supposed” to “protect” your home environment from the virus. Scammers are also taking advantage of people who are unemployed due to coronavirus and are desperate for income. These involve work-from-home opportunities, student loan repayment plans, and debt consolidation offers. Even small businesses are being targeted with these schemes — usually for funding or loans and online listing verification.
The FCC offers these tips to help you in avoiding these scams:
• Do not respond to calls or texts from unknown numbers, or any others that appear suspicious.
• Never share your personal or financial information via email, text messages, or over the phone.
• Be cautious if you’re being pressured to share any information or make a payment immediately.
• 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.
• Do not click any links in a text message. If a friend sends you a text with a suspicious link that seems out of character, call them to make sure they weren’t hacked.
• Always check on a charity (for example, by calling or looking at its actual website) before donating. (Learn more about charity scams.)
Also, beware of mailings that look suspicious. Some people have received what appears to be a stimulus check, but turns out to be a check with some serious bounce. Always verify any such mailings directly with the proper agency. This also means that prior to receiving your stimulus check you should exercise extreme caution. Please note that the Treasury Department will never contact you (particularly via phone, text message, and email) to verify banking information or even your mailing address. This information should ONLY be provided DIRECTLY to the IRS website after registration.
So, as you’re practicing “social distancing,” also practice scam distancing. Get your facts from reputed sources and don’t succumb to rumor, conspiracy theories and innuendo. Stay safe, everyone!