Organizations ranging from banks to the Federal Trade Commission are sounding alarms urging the public to beware of scams related to the coronavirus.
“Fraudsters are reaching out to individuals and businesses claiming to be FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Company) employees, then trying to obtain personal and business information during the phone calls,” Atlantic Union Bank reported on March 20. “The FDIC will rarely contact someone directly, so please don’t share your information,” the bank advised.
A week earlier, Atlantic Union reported that “cybercriminals are using concerns about the virus to launch phishing attacks. These emails may try to entice you with the promise of the latest virus information, the sale of scam products or the request for personal information. Because of this, please be cautious about clicking on email links or opening attachments referencing coronavirus, unless you are sure they are from a trusted source,” the bank added.
The Better Business Bureau has also issued warnings about phishing scams. One aims to dupe seniors with a Facebook post advertising a grant to pay medical bills. When the viewer clicks the link, it leads to a phony government agency called the “U.S. Emergency Grants Federation,” which requests the individual’s Social Security number to determine eligibility.
And knowing that many Americans are looking forward to checks from the federal stimulus package, scammers have also designed a scheme pretending to offer a special COVID-19 government grant.
The link leads to an official-looking website that requests personal information and banking details to verify the visitor’s identity and process the grant. There are several versions of this con, including text messages, social media posts and messages as well as phone calls, the BBB also announced.
To help stay safe:
• Be cautious about clicking links or opening attachments in emails, messages and posts unless you’re sure they are from a trusted source.
• Check to make sure any government agency that you consider interacting with actually exists.
• Before acting on an offer, go to a company or agency’s official website to confirm it’s making such an offer.
• Sign up for updates from the FTC or visit its website regularly to stay informed.
• If you want updates from companies or health and government authorities, such as the CDC or VDH, don’t sign up through unsolicited emails. Sign up directly on their website.
Beware of phony products
The FDA said it’s starting to see unauthorized test kits marketed for in-home coronavirus testing. These are fraudulent, the agency warned. “We want to alert the American public that, at this time, the FDA has not authorized any test that is available to purchase for testing yourself at home for COVID-19.”
The FDA and FTC have already issued warning letters to at least seven companies about making false claims related to the coronavirus. And the FDA is working at the ports to try to prevent fraudulent products from entering the country.
But the FDA is urging consumers to play a role in protecting themselves by remembering that no matter how appealing an offer sounds, there are no approved vaccines, drugs or investigational products on the market to treat or prevent the virus. There also aren’t any pills, potions, lotions, lozenges or other prescription or over-the-counter products available to treat or cure the virus — online or in stores. So, don’t spend your money, federal authorities say.
Also remember, that fraudulent medical supplies are more than just a financial issue. They’re a health risk because they can discourage and delay people from seeking legitimate, and in some cases life-saving, medical attention.
Online shopping amid scarcity
Not all scammers are using the allure of innovative products, some are taking advantage of consumers’ struggle to find basic needs.
Some online sellers claim they have in-demand products, like cleaning, household, and health and medical supplies. But after you place an order, you never get your shipment. Remember, anyone can set up shop online under almost any name — including scammers, said the FTC.
To help protect yourself:
• If you aren’t familiar with a seller, search online for the person or company’s name, phone number and email address, plus words like “review,” “complaint” or “scam.”
• Check to see if the item is in stock. Get a shipping date. Track your purchases.
• Pay by credit card to make it easier to handle disputes.
• Keep a record of your transactions.
Make your contributions count
Government leaders and the media have commended the public for acts of goodwill. But while you’re looking for ways to help, scammers use major health events like the coronavirus to take advantage of the charitable, the FTC warns.
One way they do so is by luring you in with appreciation for donations you’ve never made. There’s also the stench of a scam when someone makes a lot of vague and sentimental claims but can’t offer you specifics about how your donation will be used.
Money lost to bogus charities means less donations to help those in need, the FTC reminds.
If you’re going to make a contribution, make sure it counts by:
• Research organizations you aren’t familiar with.
• Search the name of charities along with words, such as “complaint,” “review,” “rating,” or “scam.”
• View pressure to act quickly as a red flag.
• Never pay with cash, gift card or by wiring money.
The aftermath of 9/11, the financial crisis of 2008 and Hurricane Katrina spawned massive fraud. “But [those] debacles will seem like a mere head cold compared to the virulence of the fraud that’s about to plague the American taxpayer,” warned Frank Figliuzzi, former FBI assistant director for counterintelligence, in an NBC News “Think” piece.