How to Spot Coronavirus Relief Scams
by Maurie Backman | Updated July 17, 2021 - First published on March 20, 2020
At a time when the country is in disarray, you can't afford to be a scam victim.
COVID-19 has turned the nation upside down. Our once thriving job market is now littered with countless workers submitting unemployment claims to make up for their suddenly absent paychecks. The stock market, meanwhile, has plummeted, leaving investors reeling and wondering how bad things could get.
It's a time when many of us are extremely vulnerable, because we're exhausted and scared for our health, and the health of our loved ones. And that makes it the perfect time for criminals to prey on that vulnerability by cheating Americans out of their money.
Financial scams are by no means a novel concept, and with COVID-19 at the forefront of everyone's mind, we're likely to see our share of coronavirus scams in the not-so-distant future. Here are the steps you can take to avoid being a victim of one.
1. Don't click on emails with links to COVID-19 treatment, testing, or vaccines
Because COVID-19 has made so many people critically ill, it's easy to fall victim to so-called opportunities to protect yourself. But if you get an email offering to sell you a testing kit, brand-new treatment, or vaccine, don't click on the links it contains, and if you do go that far, do not enter your bank or credit card information for criminals to see.
To be clear, there's no such thing as a COVID-19 vaccine. There's work being done to develop one, but unfortunately, health experts have said that it's a solid year away, if not more. Furthermore, any treatment related to COVID-19 is, at best, experimental right now, and you certainly can't buy an antidote on the internet. Finally, testing for COVID-19 is available, but only through a medical professional. There's no at-home test kit you can order to see if you have the virus, so don't be tricked into buying one.
2. Don't give out personal information over the phone to someone claiming to be from the CDC
The CDC is a great source of information regarding COVID-19, but it won't call you out of the blue asking you if you have symptoms and requesting personal information like your bank account details or Social Security number to go along with it. The same holds true for hospitals and doctors -- they won't be randomly contacting people to see how they're feeling with offers to prepay their medical care should the need for it arise.
3. Be careful when donating to COVID-19 research or charities
We all want to see the COVID-19 threat dissipate, and for that to happen, progress needs to be made on effective treatments and, eventually, a vaccine. And all of that takes money. If you're inclined to donate to that cause, it's a great use for your spare cash. But be careful -- there are likely to be a host of fake charities popping up in the coming weeks asking for money for COVID-19 research and patient assistance, and the last thing you want to do is make some criminal richer.
To vet a charity, you can use the IRS's Tax Exempt Organization Search to see if it's registered. You can also use sites like Charity Navigator and give.org to research charities before you donate to them. And if you want a legitimate organization to donate to, the CDC Foundation is a good start.
It's easy to get duped by criminals when your world has been turned upside down and your judgment may be a bit off because you're stressed, angry, worried, and frustrated. But the last thing you want to do is make a mistake that allows a criminal to rack up a credit card balance in your name or empty your savings account because you weren't careful. Keep the above warning signs on your radar, and with any luck, financial scams will be one thing you don't have to worry about in the coming weeks.
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