COVID-19 is triggering a pandemic of scams
Crises like pandemics can bring out the best in people – and, unfortunately, the worst. Using the pandemic as a handle, con artists have made elder fraud a multimillion-dollar industry. Just this year to date, the Federal Trade commission has received more than 187,000 elder fraud reports, robbing Americans of over $106 million. Americans 70 and older reported the biggest median losses.
As the demographic group most vulnerable to COVID-19, elders are the most worried about it. Those worries can make them particularly vulnerable to scams like these:
- Supplemental unemployment fraud– In a new form of identity theft, scammers pose as laid-off workers and file for supplemental unemployment benefits, to be directly deposited to fraudulent bank accounts they’ve set up in their victims’ names. Then, come February 2021, the victims receive 1099 forms showing miscellaneous income they never received but have to pay income taxes on. A variation on this is a demand for payment or personal information to speed delivery of government stimulus checks or higher Social Security benefits.
- Social Security scams – Official-looking letters and emails purporting to be from the Social Security Administration warning retirees that unless they pay a fee, their monthly benefits will be suspended. (You never have to pay a fee to get your Social Security payments.)
- Fake investments – Phone calls and texts pushing stocks in companies supposedly about to make huge windfalls developing vaccines, and that you need to get in right now.
- Phony contact tracers – Con artists posing as contact tracers phone or email either asking a payment for their “services” or, even worse, phishing for your Social Security number, your financial IDs and passwords, and other personal information.
- Fake prevention and cures – Ads for products, such as colloid silver, that supposedly prevents COVID-19 infection, and authentic-looking websites supposedly from the World Health Organization or other legitimate outfits offering “vaccine kits” for sale.
- The grandparent scam – An urgent email or phone call in the middle of the night from a supposed law enforcement officer on behalf of your grandchild, who’s been arrested, hurt in an accident, lost his or her wallet in a foreign country, or in in some other sort of trouble. Trouble that money, wired to them secretly and right away, can solve.
Now that you know about these scams, here are some ways to protect yourself from them:
- Know who’s contacting you. If it’s by email, mouse over the From line to see the sender’s actual address, particularly the domain. If by phone, use your caller ID. If the phone number’s unfamiliar, google it so see who it belongs to and whether it’s a known source of con games.
- Use the protections you already have. Your operating system’s mail client and major Internet service providers have built-in spam filters. Go into Preferences and set them to the strongest level. In your phone’s app store you can find free apps that can identify and block spam calls – and while all spam calls aren’t fraudulent, just about all fraudulent calls are spam.
- Ignore sales pitches for products to treat or cure coronavirus. They don’t exist. Yet.
- Check before you give. Before you donate to a charity claiming to help COVID-19 victims, check them out at the IRS and the Better Business Bureau websites.
- Check the links before clicking on them – even in official-looking emails. (See point 1 above.)
- Don’t trust strangers. Before you commit to anything, or even take the call, google the caller’s phone number. Better yet, let the call go to voicemail. If the caller doesn’t leave a message, no harm done. If there is a message, listening to it could tip you off to one of the scams above.
- Hang up on robocalls.
- If it sounds too good to be true, it’s probably false. No matter how high-pressure the sales pitch, take some time to sleep on it. Check on the organization, read online reviews if they exist, and talk it over with family or friends you trust.
If you have any questions about coping with the Coronavirus outbreak, holistic senior care, or your retirement years in general, please feel free to call or email us. Just as we always have, we’ll be happy to give you honest, objective answers.