We keep hearing that we’re all in this together, but one group seems not to have gotten the memo: scammers. It’s no surprise, when you consider the huge number of scams targeting people facing foreclosure and in other types of crisis. As of the end of April, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is reporting tens of thousands of Covid-19-related complaints. So far, the bulk of these complaints have been from the hardest-hit, most populous states. But, hundreds of complaints have been filed from Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee. The largest percentage of complaints in each of these three states and nationally have been fraud-related.
Here’s what you need to know to stay safe from scams while you’re staying safe from the virus.
Don’t respond to stimulus check requests
If someone calls, texts, or emails you regarding your federal stimulus check, don’t respond. Scammers are taking advantage of people’s need for that money and the confusion around who will receive a check and when to solicit personal information such as Social Security numbers and bank account information. Some may even ask for payment to facilitate your check. For reliable information about these payments, go straight to the source.
Use caution with travel or event refunds
If you’re contacted about a refund on planned travel, event tickets or other purchases, verify that you’re talking to the company you did business with. The best way to do that is to contact the number you originally called, the number that appears on your credit card statement, or the number you find on the company’s official website or through another reliable listing.
Be wary of online advertising for vaccines, cures and protective gear
As of this writing, there is no approved vaccine for coronavirus, and treatments are still in the testing phase. Preventatives and treatments offered online or through phone solicitations are not approved, likely won’t help, and may be dangerous. You may not even receive what you ordered, as this type of solicitation may simply be a way to capture credit card information.
Emails purporting to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO) and other respected health organizations may be fraudulent. These communications will often try to create a sense of urgency to get you to click through for more information. You may be asked to provide personal information at the other end of that link, but the damage may be done as soon as you click–you might be unknowingly downloading a virus or malware. If you receive an email with what appears to be important coronavirus information, ignore the links and check a trusted site like Coronavirus.gov.
Beware of testing scams
Getting tested for Covid-19 has been tough in many areas, leaving some people feeling desperate. That’s especially true for those who are feeling sick, or who know they have been exposed. Unfortunately, scammers love to prey on fear. Some testing scams start with a phone call to warn you that you’ve been in contact with someone who has tested positive and offer quick testing…all you have to do is provide your credit card information over the phone to schedule your test. Others have reportedly gone as far as setting up fake testing sites and collecting cash payments.
Be mindful of charity information
Educate yourself about charities and confirm contact information before donating. We all want to do our part in difficult times. That’s a wonderful human sentiment, but also a point of exploitation for thieves. When you see a compelling advertisement online, a GoFundMe campaign, or another solicitation that tugs at your heart strings, stop and do your homework. If a social media solicitation or an ad appears to be from a well-known organization, skip the link and go straight to the nonprofit’s website.
If you get a call soliciting donations for an organization you’re interested in donating to, tell the caller you’ll look into the organization and donate directly if you decide it’s the best place for your charity dollars. Don’t fall for urgent pleas from people claiming to need a certain amount of money by midnight or some artificial deadline: this crisis is ongoing and your contribution will be just as valuable after you’ve had time to research the organization.
It’s unfortunate that we can’t always trust one another in this situation, but that is the reality. Scammers are nothing if not inventive, which means that by the time you’re reading this post, there will likely be several new schemes underway to separate you from your money or collect your personal data. For example, Merideth Drummond, a Bond & Botes attorney in Jackson, Mississippi, notes that the Chief of Police in Jackson, put out an alert on the department’s Facebook page warning homeowners against opening doors to people asking them to try on masks. “Do not answer your door for individuals asking you to try on mask for protection against the coronavirus…THIS IS A SCAM!!!,” the post read.
A healthy dose of skepticism can keep you safe. In most cases, a sense of urgency is a red flag. If the caller’s product was really in such hot demand that you were about to miss your chance, would they be cold-calling you? Have you ever heard of a charity that was only accepting donations for the next eight hours?
The last thing you need in an already-stressful time is fallout from a scam. Be on the lookout not just for the tricks listed here, but for anything that seems out of the ordinary, suspicious, intrusive, or too good to be true. When in doubt, take a step back and do some research.
Brad Botes is a principal of each of the Bond & Botes Law Offices throughout Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee. He holds a Bachelor of Science from the University of North Alabama, and a Juris Doctorate from Cumberland School of Law at Samford University. He and his team of bankruptcy lawyers have spent over 30 years guiding people through financial challenges. Read his full bio here.