As if our world didn’t have enough going on with the COVID-19 pandemic. Now we have to be concerned about those looking to prey upon others. Something I am sure we have all noticed during this time of trial is that it seems to bring out the best and worst in others.
While the good side seems to be getting a leg up, with neighbors and families coming together, virtually, to support one another, some see this global situation as a time to profit off the fear of others.
Since the beginning of Coronavirus, scammers have been looking for ways to make money, and unfortunately, many have succeeded. During a time of crisis, most want to offer help, whether in the form of a donation or moral support.
Because seniors are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, criminals have targeted us as their prey. That is not to say we are the only ones they have identified, but many criminals believe us to be easy targets. And unfortunately in some ways, it is true.
We are not weak or naive, but knowing that this pandemic is impacting our community the most, puts added stress on us. Self-isolation and quarantine makes things even worse.
As a result, it can make us a bit more susceptible to criminals who prey on our fears.
Also, it is a well-known fact that many over the age of 60+ are less tech-savvy than the younger generations. Again this isn’t because we are less intelligent, but instead because we have not had the same exposure as other generations to computers. We grew up with cursive writing, not iPads.
There are multiple scams related to COVID-19 recently identified by the government and other online sources. Our article walks you through each one and what you need to know to avoid getting tangled up in it.
However, even the most knowledgeable of us can still fall victim to these scams. If you find out you were scammed there are resources available to aid you in recovering your lost money, and you should take the following steps to begin the process:
- Contact the non-emergency local law enforcement
- Contact your credit card company to dispute the charges
- If you need additional assistance you can contact Fraud Support
Also, you should never feel embarrassed if you were the victim of fraud. Thousands of American seniors are scammed every year. A 2019 report showed almost $3 billion is lost every year to scams.
Remember, those looking to prey on others have invested in high-end technology to ensure they come across as legitimate. These criminals are professionals and have dedicated themselves to coming up with ways to steal from others. This is what they do, and they are darn good at it.
COVID-19 Scams Targeting Seniors
- Phishing Scams
- Charity Scams
- Shopping Scams
- Product Scams
- Dating Scams
First, what is a Phishing Scam? It is a method scammers use to attempt to gain your personal information, which will aid them in retrieving more critical data such as your social security number, bank accounts information, and more.
Phishing scams can be more difficult to identify for seniors because they may be less-familiar with negative consequences of exposing your private data online.
COVID-19 Phishing Scams
We are all doing our best to keep up with what is happening in our world. So, when we receive an email or text from the WHO or CDC, it is natural to want to open it. However, keep in mind it is unlikely these organizations are sending critical communications out via email or text.
Information sent from health organizations, such as the CDC and WHO, is typically distributed through TV broadcasting and online news sites. Also, these groups will post the latest news on their home websites.
But it isn’t just the names of these two organizations being used by criminals. Amazon is also on the list. Some people have received an email saying that Amazon is sending a free bottle of hand sanitizer to their customers, and all you need to do is sign in to your account using the link provided.
If you are unsure if it is phishing email or text, you can go to the Federal Trade Commission website for more details on how to identify such attacks.
What to Do If You Suspect an Email or Text is a Phishing Attack
Don’t click on any link provided, instead take the time to do some research. Contact the company that the email is claiming its from and ask if they sent it. Or check out the website; for example, if Amazon is doing a giveaway, it would be advertised there.
If you didn’t realize it was a phishing attack and took action as requested in the email, update the security software on your computer then run a scan to verify, your computer is clean.
If you think you may have received a phishing email forward it to firstname.lastname@example.org, the Anti-Phishing Working Group. If it was a text forward the text to SPAM (7726), which also goes to the same organization. Also, you can report them to the federal trade commission ftc.gov/complaint.
Charity scams are prevalent during times of crisis. Some seniors who are safe at home may feel the urge to do the right thing and contribute what they can!
However, there are a few things you can do to ensure your money is going where it should be.
If you receive a call, email, or text requesting money for their charity, ask for their EIN, if they fail to give you one, you should decline to donate. If they are able to provide one, check it the number on Charity Navigator or the IRS website.
If they don’t have one, but you are still curious, you can check their name at the Charity Navigator site. Charity Navigator also allows you to donate directly through the site and not have to worry about giving your credit card information to someone falsely claiming association to a legitimate organization.
In the event you receive a call from an organization that you would like to donate to but are uncomfortable doing so over the phone, just let the representative know you will be donating at another time, then hop online and check things out.
WARNING: Not all websites claiming to be a charity are real, scammers can easily set a website claiming to be something they aren’t. Also, most charity websites end in .org, not .com.
Again, if you aren’t familiar with the group but feel like you want to donate, do so through Charity Navigator, the whole purpose of their organization is to make sure your money is going to the right group.
If you have mistakenly donated to an illegitimate organization, you can follow the steps outlined above to start the recovery process.
Shopping scams come in many forms, email, text, false websites, and phone calls. The two most popular COVID-19 scams are:
- Selling Coronavirus testing kits
- Selling vaccinations and cures
These scams tell people they must pay upfront to get the promised product as soon as it is released. The communication sent out or salesperson will add urgency to the claim, stating something to the effect of buy now before they are all gone.
Unfortunately, because everyone knows seniors are most affected by the pandemic, we usually the ones they are contacting first.
Scam artists are compelling; that’s how they make the big bucks, they play on our fears to elicit the reaction they are looking for, which is getting our credit card number.
NOTE: As of right now, there are no home test kits for COVID-19, and vaccinations and cures are not being sold online or over the phone.
There are legitimate products available that make false claims of being able to identify, protect, or cure the Coronavirus.
Some examples could be vitamins and supplements, face coverings, or essential oils. Even government officials are claiming that you can use a portable nano-ozone device (used for hunting) to protect yourself, which is completely unfounded.
Though these ideas are almost never spread on traditional news sources like CNN or Fox News, some seniors may see their friends posting information from untrusted news sources or even jokes & memes on Facebook.
Thankfully, some organizations are proactively shutting these companies down or requiring them to remove their false claims. One of these groups happens to be Amazon.
Also, to support its customers, Amazon has removed 530,000 “high-priced offers,” as well as suspended 2,500 seller accounts for price gouging.
Also, the FDA is actively monitoring and responding to companies selling products that allegedly aid against COVID-19.
The Federal Trade Commission identified seven companies that were scamming consumers to buy their products, based on false claims:
- Vital Silver
- Aromatherapy Ltd.
- GuruNanda, LLC
- Vivify Holistic Clinic
- Herbal Amy LLC
- The Jim Bakker Show
Robocalls are scammers that use technology to falsify the phone number on your caller-id and claim to be with:
- Government office
- Bank/Credit card companies
These cybercriminals use technology, our fear, and our trust in the name of the organization they claim to be with, to steal your money. Robocall scams are one of the most pervasive ways to scam seniors even in “normal” times, but they are not taking any time off work to self-quarantine.
Often they will ask for personal information such as:
- Social Security Number
- Date of birth
- Credit card information
- Gift card details
Robocalls are the number one issue the FCC deals with, so it is not surprising they are on the uprise with COVID-19. Though the government is doing all they can to shut down these groups, more pop up every day.
If you receive a call asking for information, hang up. If you aren’t sure if it was a scam, look up the company, hospital, or organization’s phone number online and call them to find out if it is a legitimate claim.
An example of a call would be:
Hi! I am John Doe from XYZ hospital, and your son has tested positive for COVID-19. We need to admit him, but his insurance card won’t go through at this time, he said you would be able to place a deposit so he could be admitted.
Of course, we want to help our child, but the reality is it is likely, not true. So, end the conversation and call your relative and verify the information.
If you receive a phone call from one of these groups, you should report them to the FTC.
Online Dating Scams
From January to March of 2020, $1.7 million have been swindled using online dating scams. Due to the necessity of isolation, more and more people, and not just seniors, are turning to the internet to meet others.
However, those seeking social connections are not the only ones jumping online looking to meet people.
Criminals are seeking those socially and physically isolated. These scammers come off as caring and understanding. They build a “trusting” relationship with you, then after the foundation has been laid, they ask for money.
Now some of us may be rolling our eyes thinking we wouldn’t give money to someone we just met online, but most of us would give money to help out a friend, right?
Well, John or Jane Doe is our friend. They posted a picture, discussed their grandkids with you, and listened to whats going on in your life. Maybe you even talk with this person multiple times a day through email, text, or phone.
Now when you think about your “friend” asking for money to help out a family member struggling during COVID-19 because of illness or maybe a lost job, then it is more likely we would want to help them out.
So how do you defend yourself against these scams? Tell them “no.” Do not give money to people you have met online through social sites.
Those looking to scam you will often continue to cajole, guilt, or even threaten not to talk to you anymore if you don’t give them money. But, stay strong and resist giving money to them, then it is best to end future communication with them.
There are benefits and drawbacks to the modern world. In terms of the COVID-19 pandemic, we now have communication tools and advanced science to help us fight the virus much better than we would have decades ago.
However, modern technology can also be used by people with agendas (and little dollar signs in their eyeballs).
Keep your eyes peeled and your head on straight, and if it smells like a scam, it probably is!