COVID-19 may have shut down portions of the economy and put restrictions on Americans’ daily lives, but cyber scams and other efforts to defraud people continue to thrive.
“Scammers are tapping into the uncertainty related to the global pandemic,” says Chris Orestis, the president of LifeCare Xchange who is known as the “Retirement Genius” (www.retirementgenius.com).
“They are using social engineering to target people with tactics that take advantage of today’s technology. Seniors need to be especially mindful of the mechanisms that have been explicitly designed to target people in retirement.”
Some scams to be on the lookout for include:
Dishonest retailers. Many dishonest retailers and fake products are popping up, Orestis said. “The shortage of toilet paper, hand sanitizer, soap, and masks at the beginning of the quarantine resulted from people’s panic,” he says. “The fear of scarcity created a gateway for scammers. Fraudulent online retailers are showcasing these items as bait, especially medical supplies.” But they don’t have any inventory, so stick with reputable stores, Orestis said. Scammers also try to sell products to prevent or cure COVID-19, even though they do not exist. “Anyone who receives a message from someone selling any of these items should not respond,” Orestis said.
Phony advertisements. Scammers also try to advertise hard-to-find products through social media, email or ads that pop up on certain sites. Avoid clicking on anything unfamiliar because cyber criminals may be trying to steal your personal information or infect your computer with a virus, Orestis said. “Be cautious of people who try to contact you under odd usernames and do not have a profile picture,” he said. “If anyone asks for your personal information or invites you to click on a link, block them immediately or report them as spam.”
Government or organization disguises. Is a government official or someone from the CDC or from the World Health Organization trying to contact you? Maybe, but probably not. Scammers often try to convince potential victims that they are with a legitimate agency or group, Oresitis said. “For example, an email might claim that there have been new COVID-19 cases in your area and ask for your personal information to see if you have been in contact with anyone infected,” he said. “Be suspicious of any COVID-19 related emails and use only official government websites to get information about the virus.”
Fake charities and crowdfunding. Criminals have also created counterfeit charities and crowdfunding sites. They ask for money in the form of cash, gift cards, and wire transfers. “Real charities will never use these resources,” Orestis said. “Be sure to use reputable sites and research the charities you want to donate to for coronavirus relief.”
Phone scams. Phones are still the No. 1 way scammers target seniors, both through calls and text messages. The Federal Communications Commission warns about these methods being used by people who claim to be the IRS or have coronavirus treatments, at-home testing kits, and vaccinations. “If you receive a robotic voice call, do not press any buttons or return any calls,” Orestis said. “Hang up immediately. If you receive text messages regarding this information, do not respond or click on any links.”
“It’s important to be wary of these and other scams, both off and online,” Orestis added. “The more conscious people are of how scammers are trying to trick them, the less likely they are to fall for one of those tricks.”