During times of crisis, scammers and con artists use fear to trick you out of your money or sensitive personal information; and Coronavirus is no exception. People age 60 are at increased risk for COVID-19 and seniors also at increased risk of being targeted by these scammers. Here are five common scams to avoid:
- Contact Tracing Scams
Contact Tracing is the process of identifying people who have come in contact with individuals testing positive for COVID-19. Contact tracers are usually hired by state health agencies, but some states have begun utilizing third party vendors to increase contact tracing capabilities.
Contact tracers interview people who have or had COVID-19 to identify everyone with whom they had close contact with and notify those contacts of their potential exposure while maintaining the confidentiality of the person who tested positive. If you are called by a contact tracer, they may refer you for testing and connect you with community resources. People who have been exposed to an individual with COVID-19 are encouraged to stay home, monitor their health, and maintain social distance from others until at least 14 days after their last exposure to the infected person. The CDC has compiled a list of frequently asked questions about the Contact Tracing process here.
A contact tracer employed by your state’s health department or other legitimate agency will not ask for payment or personal information, such as social security numbers, credit or debit card numbers, or bank account numbers. They will not ask any questions regarding your immigration or citizenship status. Contact tracing agencies may contact individuals via text message stating that a follow up call should be expected. However, they will not ask individuals to click a link within a text message or email – this is another telltale sign of a fake contact tracing scam and can infect your device with malware that gives the scammer access to your sensitive personal information. Never click a link in a text message or email from anyone claiming you have been in contact with someone infected with COVID-19.
If you believe you have been contacted by a scammer posing as a contact tracer, hang up on phone calls, do not respond to texts or emails, do not download anything sent in an email or text, and contact your state health department immediately for assistance. You can also file a complaint with the FTC.
Finally, contact tracers will never show up at your home unsolicited claiming to be representatives from your state health agency or the CDC. Do not allow anyone who comes to your door uninvited and who claims to be a contact tracer enter your home, even if they are in a lab coat or have an ID badge. Call law enforcement immediately.
- Coronavirus “Cures”
Some companies claim to sell you miracle products to treat or cure COVID-19. These fake treatments can include teas, essential oils, vaccinations, and colloidal silver. There is no evidence to back up these claims and no proof they are effective. Even if someone you know or trust claims to have purchased or is selling a treatment or cure for COVID-19, be wary and remember that according to the FDA, there are no approved vaccines, drugs, or investigational products currently available to treat or prevent the Coronavirus at this time. The Federal Trade Commission has had to send hundreds of letters to individuals, pharmacies, companies, and even televangelists claiming to have treatments for COVID-19 or Coronavirus.
How can you avoid these product scams? Ignore these offers and don’t believe claims that a product can treat or cure the Coronavirus. If and when a treatment or cure becomes available, do you think you will have to find it through an ad or infomercial sales pitch? Keep up to date on COVID-19 treatment breakthroughs by following the news provided by trusted organizations such as the CDC and FDA, and visiting sites like coronavirus.gov or usa.gov/coronavirus to get the latest information. .
The best defense against the Coronavirus is to follow the CDC’s recommendations. Protect yourself and others by monitoring your health, washing hands frequently, maintaining social distance, and wearing a mask or cloth face covering in public.
- Fraudulent Home Test Kits
As of July 1, 2020, there are very few COVID-19 testing kits that have the FDA’s approval for home collection, and even fewer that do not require a doctor’s order. Though the FDA is actively working with test developers to expand the availability of COVID-19 testing at home, many firms are marketing fraudulent, unauthorized home tests that may not be accurate. Scammers may also call or text offers of at-home “coronavirus test kits” in an attempt to collect your credit card or bank account information, and your home address.
The best thing to do if you are feeling sick is to first call your doctor so they can help determine if you may have COVID-19 symptoms. Your doctor can advise you if you need to be tested, order tests on your behalf, direct you to local drive-through or walk-up testing centers or, if necessary, order an FDA-approved at-home test for you. If you or someone you know have emergency warning signs for COVID-19 such as shortness of breath/difficulty breathing, persistent chest pain or pressure, bluish lips or face (indicating insufficient oxygen), new confusion or inability to awake or arouse, seek emergency medical attention immediately.
- Fake Government Calls
Scammers are taking advantage of confusion over government stimulus packages, social security payments, and unemployment benefits to steal your identity. Callers may claim to be from the IRS, local unemployment agency, Social Security Administration, or U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and ask seniors to “verify” their Medicare ID or Social Security numbers or other personal information. These scammers can even “spoof” the Caller ID to make it look like they are contacting you from a real agency.
The Inspector General of Social Security is warning the public about fraudulent letters threatening suspension of Social Security benefits due to COVID-19-related office closures. Social Security will not suspend or discontinue your benefits because offices are closed to the public for in-person service. Questionable calls or letters relating to your Social Security can be reported to the SSA here.
Remember that no government agency will ever text or message you on social media saying that you owe them money. Government employees won’t threaten you for your information or promise benefits in exchange for personal information or payment. While agencies may call you, they will never demand an immediate payment from you, or require payment by cash, gift card, pre-paid debit card, or wire transfer. Requests for these types of payment are always fraudulent.
- “Help” with Errands
Some scammers will offer their “help” with your household errands and grocery shopping, and then take the money and run. If you need help picking up groceries/prescriptions or with other household errands, always be suspicious if a stranger offers unsolicited assistance. They may offer to pick up much needed supplies, but you may never see the goods or your hard-earned money again. Instead, always utilize the help of a trusted friend, neighbor, or family member, or arrange delivery with a well-known company offering those services. Many grocery stores and pharmacies are now offering contact-free delivery directly from the establishment. There may also be resources available from trusted community organizations in your area or your place of worship.
Remember, scammers have no shame and even a global public health crisis is not off limits to predators who seek to exploit and harm others. Be suspicious of anyone on a call, text, or email who is attempting to get your personal information, pressure you to make immediate payments, or rush you to make a decision. If you think you have been contacted by a scammer, reach out to a trusted family member, friend, neighbor, or organization for advice. Don’t be embarrassed to report if you shared personal financial information or suffered a financial loss. Always keep up to date on the latest FTC guidance regarding scams, and never give out your sensitive information or click suspicious links in calls, texts, or emails, even if they appear to be from a trusted source.