As if the coronavirus pandemic itself isn't bad enough, there are lots of scammers out there taking advantage of it -- at our expense. Many websites, including government ones like the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), are listing scams to be wary of.
Here's a roundup of some top coronavirus-related scams you should be aware of. If you're informed enough to avoid falling victim to these, you'll likely be able to avoid others, as well.
1. Vaccines and cures for sale
Sadly, at this point, and most likely for many months to more than a year, there is no vaccine or cure for the virus that causes COVID-19.
2. Tests for sale
At this point, there are no approved tests that consumers can order to test themselves for COVID-19. Tests are being conducted around the country, and your doctor's office or local government should be able to help you get tested, especially if you have symptoms. You might look into your local CVS or Walgreens pharmacies, too, as they have set up testing operations in many locations. Similarly, don't fall for it if a stranger knocks on your door and offers to test you, for a fee.
3. Fake charities
Many of us are eager to help those less fortunate than ourselves, and many scammers know that. So they're contacting people by e-mail, phone calls, and other ways, urging them to donate to fake charities that may seem very real. (They may even have real-looking websites.)
If you want to donate to charities, do your own digging online to find reputable and recommended ones. Or just go to the websites of charities you know and trust -- many are busy helping people during these difficult times. You can also research charities online before donating.
4. Fake people in need or funding campaigns
You're sure to run across funding campaigns shared by friends or businesses you know, but you should tread carefully. If the person in need is an actual friend of a friend, that's likely to be legitimate. But there are other campaigns out there, presenting terribly sad stories, that are not real.
5. Social Security-related scams
Don't fall for it if you're contacted by someone who needs personal information from you in order to make sure you keep getting your Social Security benefits. Don't believe any suggestion that your benefits will be interrupted due to the COVID-19 emergency.
While Social Security branch offices may be closed or operating on reduced hours, benefits are continuing to be paid, and you can still contact the Social Security Administration (SSA) via its website and phone number. In fact, you're urged to report any Social Security scams to the SSA's Office of the Inspector General. Be skeptical of letters that arrive looking like they're from the SSA -- if you're in doubt, contact the SSA on your own before responding.
6. Penny stock scams
It's always best to avoid penny stocks -- those trading for less than about $5 per share. That's even more true now, because many advocates of penny stocks are touting tiny companies with COVID-19 angles -- this one is about to release a cure for the virus, that one has developed a revolutionary treatment, and so on. Don't fall for these "pump-and-dump" schemes, as they rarely end well. Know that there are plenty of legitimate, promising companies that are addressing the coronavirus, and you needn't make risky bets.
7. Tax-related scams
Just as the Social Security Administration isn't going to call, text, or email you about your benefits, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) isn't going to contact you in those ways, either. These days, many people are getting calls, emails, or texts supposedly from the IRS, asking for information such as bank account numbers in order to process the $1,200 "stimulus checks" that many people will be getting. But that's not how those payments will be made, and the words "stimulus check" should raise a red flag, too, as its actual name, that the IRS would use, is "economic impact payment." The IRS, too, offers guidance on scams and invites you to report them.
8. Work-at-home scams
Some scammers, knowing that many people are out of work and desperate for income, are luring them with fake work-at-home opportunities. Be wary of opportunities you run across, especially if you're expected to supply any personal information such as a bank account number or credit card number -- or if you're directed to purchase startup materials.
You'll be able to avoid all kinds of scams if you keep a few things in mind:
- Anyone who contacts you to ask for personal information such as birth date, Social Security number, address, credit card number, and so on, probably shouldn't get it. Don't fall for it if they ask you to "verify" your data, either.
- Any proposition that seems too good to be true probably is.
- Anyone urging you to act immediately, lest you lose money, is probably running a scam.
- If you're skeptical that someone contacting you is really from the organization they say they're with, hang up and contact the organization directly, on your own.
Finally, keep up with COVID-19-related news, so that you'll be generally more informed and thereby less likely to fall for any scams. And when in doubt, do some research on your own or check with your local attorney general's office or another related agency.