At a time when everybody is transfixed on the coronavirus, not everyone is full of sorrow, some are seizing the opportunity to profit. Scammers never sleep. They work overtime.
The FTC has warned consumers that fraudsters are setting up websites to sell phony products, and using fake emails, texts, and social media posts to separate you from your cash and your personal information. According to the FTC, emails and posts attempt to lure you in a variety of ways, with prevention tips, ways to donate to victims, or untrue information about cases in your neighborhood, for example.
Here’s what you need to look out for and how to protect yourself.
Be leery of emails
One of the most prevalent ways cybercriminals target internet users is through email phishing scams.
This happens in various forms, including prompting you to download attachments or click on links for information on protective measures to take or to check the latest news and virus statistics, or to click on a link to receive exclusive access to a “secret” vaccine or cure, for example.
“Of course, any link you click on or attachment you download in a phishing email will either take you to a phishing site to harvest your personal data or inject malware onto your device. Some of these emails may appear to be legitimate and come from an authentic source on the surface, but you can often spot misspellings or other grammatical errors that can tip you off to the fact that the email is a phishing scam,” says Attila Tomaschek, a digital privacy expert with ProPrivacy.com.
Additionally, the sender’s email address typically isn’t an exact match of the organization from which the email is allegedly being sent, and any link contained in the email may appear legitimate but upon closer inspection, you may notice inconsistencies. “Never download an attachment or click on any link contained in an unsolicited email message or any email that otherwise seems a bit off,” says Tomaschek.
Crooks have fake coronavirus tracking map apps that attempt to take advantage of your desire to stay informed about the pandemic. If you download a fake coronavirus tracking app, you will automatically inject your device with malware that gives scammers the ability to intercept your login and password information for your online accounts, along with your bank account info, browsing history, contact information, contact lists and more, warns Tomaschek.
Testing kit, vaccine frauds
One scam offers a personal coronavirus testing kit for only the costs it takes to ship to the you. “Unfortunately, the largest target population of this scam is the elderly community. Scammers are aware that the elderly are arguably more apt to fall victim to the coronavirus and are preying on their fears. It’s important to get the word out to the elderly that there are no approved testing kits available for public purchase,” says Patrick Simakso, elder-law attorney and wealth preservation specialist at Simasko Law in Mount Clemens, Michigan.
Similarly crooks are advertising vaccine kits that can be sent to you. However, there are not any official COVID-19 vaccines at this time. “Any vaccines provided by private companies are not legitimate. These are tactics that criminals are taking to prey on people and profit off their concerns,” says Simakso.
How does this work? You might get a call from someone claiming to be from the health department falsely telling you that have come in contact with someone who is infected. Then they’ll attempt to sell a fake testing or vaccine kit.
Fake sanitizing offers
There’s plenty good reason to be a germaphobe right now. So it’s not surprising there are home sanitation scams via telephone or online offers for someone to come and sanitize your home. The catch? Pre-payment is required, says Josh Jones, principal at the law firm of Bressler, Amery & Ross in Birmingham.
Cleaning supplies, masks and hand sanitizer are flying off the shelves. Scammers have a fix for that. They may advertise or send emails claiming they have these items in stock, only to take your money without delivering the product.
“If you need these products, place orders from vendors you trust. If they don’t have them in stock, ask friends and neighbors for other sources or for community groups helping to deliver supplies,” says Leslie Tayne, a debt resolution attorney with the Tayne Law Group in Melville.
Supposed Medicare calls
You might get a call about the, “coronavirus preventative medicine that Medicare is covering.” “People on Medicare are getting a call to make sure they can be protected. All that a recipient needs to do is provide credit card information to pay for co-pay or shipping, and the medicine will be delivered, saving you from the pandemic,” says Sara Hornick, a financial advisor with Hudson Wealth Management in Traverse City, Michigan.
Other times, these scammers will say that your Medicare Supplement or Advantage plan will cover this "medicine," but there needs to be verification of a Social Security number, or bank account information. “Medicare is not providing anything. All of your care should be coordinated through your doctor,” says Hornick.
Give no personal details, hang up
Don’t give away any personal information. If someone calls to offer an at-home visit, don’t give them your address or a good time to schedule an appointment. Don’t make any payments or give away any sensitive or financial info, says Joshua Zimmelman, president of Westwood Tax & Consulting in Rockville Centre.
Go directly to the source. If you receive an email that looks legit, but you’re not sure, don’t click on any links. Instead go to the organization’s main website and search for the information you received in the email. If the offer was real, it’ll be on their site. If not, then the link in the email was probably leading you to a fake phishing site.
Says Zimmelman, “If someone calls you offering you a free COVID-19 test or asking to schedule an at-home visit, they’re probably scammers. Don’t give them any information. Don’t even press a number to speak to a live operator or remove you from the list, because it might just lead to more spam phone calls. Hang up.”
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