Many Americans' lives have been turned upside down by the coronavirus pandemic. More than one-third of U.S. adults say COVID-19 is a major threat to their personal health, according to a survey from Pew Research Center, and close to half say their personal finances are threatened by the virus. Even more Americans (88%) are concerned about the virus' effect on the U.S. economy, and there's a good chance the country could be headed toward a recession.
Because so many people are feeling vulnerable right now, it's a prime time for scammers to strike. These fraudsters take advantage of the fear and uncertainty many Americans are experiencing, and there are four common scams that could cost you a lot of cash.
1. Social Security scams
Social Security beneficiaries have always been targets for scammers, but there's a new type of scam going around as a result of the coronavirus.
You may receive an official-looking letter saying your benefits have been suspended because of COVID-19, and to continue receiving your monthly checks, you must call a phone number listed in the letter. Once you call, the scammer may tell you that you have to pay a fine or fee to get your benefits reinstated.
The truth is that benefits will not be suspended or withheld due to the coronavirus, so if you ever receive a letter, phone call, or email telling you otherwise, ignore it and report the incident to the Office of the Inspector General. In addition, keep in mind that the Social Security Administration will never ask for personal information over the phone or in a letter or email, so be extra cautious if you receive requests for this. If you're suspicious, it's best to contact the Social Security Administration to see if the person reaching out to you is legitimate or a scammer.
2. Medical scams
In one particularly devious scheme, scammers will call or email victims and pose as a doctor or medical provider. They may tell you that they are treating one of your loved ones for COVID-19, but they need payment for the treatment.
Other scammers are trying to sell fake cures or vaccines for the coronavirus, specifically targeting high-risk individuals such the elderly or those with underlying health conditions. You may receive a robocall offering a free COVID-19 test kit or some type of "cure," saying you need to provide your personal information and payment over the phone.
Don't be fooled; if you receive any type of phone call, letter, or email that sounds suspicious, report it to the Federal Communications Commission.
3. Charity scams
This type of swindle preys on those who are trying to help other people affected by the virus. You may receive a call or email from someone pretending to be with a charity or other major group such as the World Health Organization. These fraudsters will ask for donations on behalf of the organization, then steal your cash.
If you want to donate to help those affected by COVID-19, there are plenty of charities accepting donations. Just be sure you do your research and double-check that the organization is legitimate and that you're donating through the correct website. If you receive a call or an email that you find suspicious, do not provide any personal information and instead go to the charity's website to donate.
4. Stimulus check scams
Millions of American households are expected to receive a stimulus check in the coming weeks, and scammers may be taking advantage of the opportunity. You could receive phone calls, emails, or texts from people posing as government officials saying they need to verify your bank account information before depositing the check.
But you will not need to provide any personal information in order to receive your stimulus check. The Treasury Department will use the information that's already on file from your taxes to directly deposit or mail your check, so if you're asked to provide that information over the phone or in an email, hang up or don't respond.
Many Americans are feeling uncertain about the future amid the coronavirus pandemic, which means scammers are going to be out in full force to take advantage of those fears. By remaining vigilant and looking out for these scams, though, you can protect yourself and your money.