Safeguarding from Coronavirus Scams
Elderly Scams in the Time of COVID
Coronavirus scams are spreading nearly as fast as the virus itself. As of Oct. 14, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) had logged nearly 224,000 consumer complaints related to COVID-19 and stimulus payments, two-thirds of them involving fraud or identity theft. Victims have reported losing more than $160 million, with a median loss of $303.
Not only are we trying to protect our older and more vulnerable adult community from the health risks of COVID 19, we must also be cognizant of another threat: coronavirus-related scams. These scams disproportionately victimize older adults. Scammers are trying to capitalize on the uncertainty and fear we are all feeling right now. They want people to make decisions quickly – whether it’s trying to get people to buy something, share confidential information, or send money. Older people are more likely to be prey for these scammers for the same reason they were prey before COVID 19: loneliness, and as a result more likely to pick up the phone, cognitive decline, loss of hearing and sight.
For example, with recent reports of significant progress in the race for a vaccine, crooks have stepped up malicious email campaigns with subject lines like “Urgent information: COVID-19 new approved vaccines,” according to software security firm CheckPoint. The FBI warns that scammers posing as charity fundraisers, soliciting donations to supposedly help individuals, organizations and areas affected by the virus.
Some scams affecting the elderly right now include:
Home test kits for Covid-19
In an attempt to obtain credit card information and banking information, scammers are calling and texting older adults offering them “coronavirus test kits.” There have also been instances where scammers are posing as officials from the U.S. Centers for Medicaid Services (CMS) and asking senior to verify their Medicare ID or Social Security number. Some scammers also ask victims for their home address indicating they would drop off the test kit to their homes.
Other scammers claim to be selling or offering in-demand supplies such as masks, test kits and household cleaners, often in robocalls, texts or social media ads. The FTC has issued warnings to companies suspected of abetting coronavirus robocalls, and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) set up a dedicated website with information on COVID-19 phone scams.
Scams offering low-cost health and life insurance along with at-home COVID-19 test kits and other products under the guise of “free gifts” are preying on the older adult population as well.
Fake Covid-19 related products and services
Phone and text scams falsely advertise fake products like drugs, vaccines, and devices that allegedly prevent or cure COVID-19. Some of these scams prey on fears of shortages and encourage the elderly to stock up and buy things at inflated prices. Some scammers offer in-home services that falsely claim to protect people from contracting COVID-19, like HVAC cleaning. Another scam to be on the lookout for is fake gift-card emails that are sent to older adults to offer help during the crisis or reward them for following public health guidelines.
The FBI says con artists are advertising fake COVID-19 antibody tests in hopes of harvesting personal information they can use in identity theft or health insurance scams.
Some scammers are contacting older adults and posing as a representative from the Social Security Administration telling victims that their benefits will cease or decrease due to COVID-19 unless they make payment or alternatively, provide personal information. Frauds are also impersonating banks and lenders, offering fake help with bills, credit card debt, or loan forgiveness.
Keep watch for calls or emails, allegedly from government agencies, that use the term “stimulus” (the official term is “economic-impact payment”) and ask you to sign over a check or provide personal information like your Social Security number. Also watch out for another stimulus con that comes from social media, in scam Facebook messages promising to get you “COVID-19 relief grants.”
Some scammers claim to be collecting money for fake COVID-19 relief charities.
Please make your loved ones aware that these scams exist so they do not fall prey to COVID-19 scams. Make them aware that government agencies will never ask them to provide personal or payment information via phone, text, or email. The FCC provides the following recommendations to protect our senior loved ones:
- Don’t answer calls or respond to text messages that come from unknown or suspicious numbers.
- Avoid online offers for coronavirus vaccines or cures. They are not legitimate.
- Don’t share personal or financial information via phone, email, or text.
- Be suspicious of any caller who pressures them to make an immediate payment or share personal information.
- Refrain from clicking suspicious links in text messages or emails, even if they appear to come from a friend or family member.
- Verify charities by calling or checking the organization’s website before giving money.
If your loved one receives a questionable text, call, or email related to COVID-19, or if you think they might be a victim of a COVID-19 hoax, you can contact us here at Hays Firm LLC and we can assist and direct you.