It is no secret that fraudsters tend to prey on the weak or vulnerable. And right now, the majority of Americans are feeling the crunch of the COVID-19 pandemic. Financial uncertainty and an economy in near shambles make the perfect recipe for scammers to start taking advantage of those in desperation.
Consumers and businesses alike should understand how to identify potential scams, how to report them, and most importantly, how to protect themselves from ill-intentioned promises.
Here are our top tips on what to look for and how to avoid falling prey to a COVID-19 scam:
Common COVID-19 Scams and How to Identify Them
When the pandemic started sweeping through the country, scammers wasted no time in setting up fake email accounts, websites, and messaging that promised funding, vaccines, or products to protect yourself against the virus.
Scams have ranged to everything from fake research companies claiming to be on the verge of a breakthrough treatment, fake health agencies spreading fear-mongering information, and products like masks and hand sanitizer for sale that will never make it to your door.
However, most scams can be spotted and prevented before you hand over any payments or personal details. The following tips can help you avoid becoming the next victim of COVID-19 fraud:
Double Check Your Sources
Websites or information may look like it is coming from a reputable source, but you should know that anyone can steal a logo and create legitimate-looking content. Check the URL to see if there are any anomalies, additional letters or words, or different extensions, such as CDC.co instead of CDC.gov.
Be Cautious About Sharing Personal Information
It is best practice not to reveal any personal or financial information online. However, this is hard to avoid when shopping, banking, or filing taxes online. If it feels odd that certain details are being requested based on the type of online activity you are doing, it is best to go with your gut.
Avoid Making Purchases from Unfamiliar Companies
Fake companies are “selling” essential items like toilet paper, masks, and other items that have been wiped clean from store shelves. But once you pay for these items, you will never get them. Stick with trusted companies during this time of uncertainty to avoid being their next scam victim.
Verify Charities Before You Donate
Charities need donations now more than ever, and they are harder to come by with so many people out of work or otherwise not spending money. If you do decide to give, make sure it is a charity you trust and not one who’s ad popped up from nowhere on Facebook. The FTC offers great guidance on how to verify a charity.
Do not Answer Calls or Texts from Unknown Numbers
Robo callers are in full force trying to conduct stimulus-related scams or collect social security numbers to take out loans or apply for assistance using your credentials. Real government agencies and financial institutions will never ask for social security numbers, your maiden name or former high school, or other details that could be answers to security questions.
If you do fall victim to a COVID-19 scam, it is important to report the scam as soon as possible. You may also benefit from professional legal advice on how to mitigate the potential financial impact.