These are uncertain times right now, and many Americans may be feeling vulnerable in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Millions of people are out of work, and it can be stressful not knowing when life will return to normal.
Unfortunately, scammers thrive during times of distress. These fraudsters use their victims' fear to their advantage, swindling them out of cash or tricking them into providing personal information. The Federal Trade Commission has received more than 18,000 coronavirus-related scam reports since the beginning of the year, and those scams have collectively cost Americans around $13.4 million.
Scammers are getting sneakier, too, and it can be tough to detect these types of fraud. With so many different types of COVID-19 scams out there, nearly everyone is at risk of falling victim to one. Here are some of the most common types of scams to look out for.
1. Treatment scams
One of the most insidious types of scams involves fraudsters calling their victim and impersonating a doctor or other healthcare professional. They may tell you your friend or loved one is being treated for COVID-19, saying you need to submit a payment to cover the hospital bill.
Other scammers are trying to sell fake cures or treatments, often targeting those who are more vulnerable to the virus. One scam, in particular, is offering free coronavirus testing kits to those with diabetes in order to collect personal information, according to the Federal Communications Commission. Some fraudsters may also say they're selling health insurance or bogus products that promise to protect you from or cure COVID-19, asking for payment over the phone.
2. Social Security scams
Social Security recipients are always at risk of being targeting by scammers, but it's especially important to be careful to avoid coronavirus-related scams. According to the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), Social Security beneficiaries report receiving official-looking letters saying their benefits are being suspended due to COVID-19 unless they call the phone number provided in the letter. When they call that number, they are instructed to provide payment or verify personal information in order for their benefits to be reinstated.
Social Security benefits are not affected by the coronavirus, so if you receive a call, email, or letter telling you your monthly checks are suspended, hang up or ignore it and report it to the OIG. Also, keep in mind that the Social Security Administration will never ask for your Social Security number, bank account information, or any other personally identifiable information over the phone or in an email. They'll also never ask for payment in the form of a wire transfer, gift card, or prepaid debit card. If you're ever unsure about whether the call, email, or letter you received is legitimate, contact the Social Security Administration for more information.
3. Charity scams
These are trying times for millions of Americans who have lost their income or are battling health problems, and many good-hearted people are donating to charities to help others. However, these people are often prime targets for scammers.
Some scammers are impersonating well-known charities or groups like the World Health Organization to solicit donations. You may receive a call, text, or email from someone saying they're asking for donations on behalf of a legitimate charity, and you have to provide payment information over the phone or in an email. If you receive a call or an email that you're not sure is legitimate, don't provide any information or click on any links. Instead, go directly to the charity's official website and donate that way.
4. Phishing scams
Some scammers are sending phishing emails that appear to be from legitimate organizations, whether it's a charity group, the Social Security Administration, or the IRS. But as soon as you click a link in the email, you're sent to a fraudulent website that asks for personal information.
Other types of phishing emails claim to offer work-from-home job opportunities, information about health insurance or Medicare, or loans or other forms of financial relief. Phishing scams don't always come in the form of emails, either; you should also watch out for suspicious-looking texts. For example, the Federal Communications Commission reports that many Americans are receiving texts from the "FCC Financial Care Center" offering $30,000 in relief to those affected by COVID-19. However, there is no such program, and these texts are simply a way to trick you into providing personal information.
These are difficult times for millions of people, and scammers are, unfortunately, taking advantage of that. By being aware of these common coronavirus-related scams, however, you can protect yourself and your money.