Keeping You Informed: 4 Scams to be Aware of in the Coronavirus Environment
Unfortunately, as the world starts to adjust to life after Coronavirus, some things don't change: Scammers and their plots are still alive and well.
As of late April, the FBI had received more than 3,600 complaints about Coronavirus-related scams. The schemes were designed to obtain checks, physical money or identification from victims – identification that can be used to access bank, credit card and other financial accounts. Some scammers are also trying to get access to your home or your online business.
At Linscomb & Williams, we work hard to keep our clients safe, but we want to make sure we’re keeping you informed so you are aware of several new scams that have popped up recently. As the economy begins a restart, various new elements are "in play" with Coronavirus ongoing.
First, social distancing is resulting in high degrees of social isolation. With fewer regular friends and family involved in our day-to-day lives, some become more susceptible to various scams.
Second, many activities are being conducted online, which creates a perfect opportunity for scammers to create fake sites to an audience predisposed to use sites for more activities than usual.
The FBI issues several cautions:
First, never give your personal information out to people or organizations who call, e-mail, text or use any form of social media to request it. Ever.
Second, verify that websites reflect real organizations. Search for information about an organization before interacting with it. If it’s a business or charitable organization, ask for an Employer Identification Number (EIN) and look them up in directories. If you can’t find them, don’t respond.
Third, never assume that a professional-looking website or phone number with an appropriate area code means a communication is legitimate. Websites and phone numbers are both very easy to obtain. Just because a phone call comes from a Washington, D.C. area code, and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is located in Washington, D.C., it does not mean that a call is from the IRS or any other arm of the federal government.
Below are 4 common scams to watch out for.
Unfortunately, a great deal of public pain, in terms of unemployment, financial distress and illness, has led to charities working overtime. Food banks and other social services are seeing record levels of use.
Charity scams tend to come in two flavors. In the first, scammers set up fake nonprofits with very real looking websites or social media sites to solicit donations. In the second, you may be contacted by an individual asking for aid, or asking “on behalf of a friend or relative.” In both cases, the money is for the scammers, not a legitimate purpose.
Don’t give to a charity unless you have proof that the charity is legitimate. Consider donating to local nonprofits you know or charities you’ve contributed to in the past. If you don’t know an individual who is asking for a donation, asking plenty of questions is appropriate.
(For other tips on giving to charity, read our recent blog post: Giving to Charity in Retirement? Here’s a Tip.)
Many households are set to receive stimulus checks from the government. These will be deposited into checking accounts for which the IRS has information, or the IRS will mail paper checks.
Unfortunately, scammers know this too.
In one form of IRS scam, fraudsters will try to “verify” your IRS information. Please take notice: The IRS never calls anyone to verify their information. This should raise a red flag. Usually, such a "verification" is an attempt to get your information so someone else can receive the check. They may also file false tax returns in order to receive it.
Your telephone number and Social Security number can be used to access personal sensitive data. Don’t give out your personal information or even say “yes” or “no” if someone tries to recite information to you, such as your Social Security number.
In a second form of IRS scam, scammers are accessing these physical checks. They then request the recipient to sign it over to them. (It’s also possible for scammers to try to intercept the check out of your mailbox to deposit it.)
In another scam, someone will tell you they can expedite your stimulus check. This is not possible, so run in the other direction if you might hear this from someone.
Although COVID-19 has no cure yet, a number of scams peddle either cures or medication to supposedly prevent you from contracting the virus. Some scams advertise a vaccine or even blood or saliva with antibodies from infected individuals that will “guarantee” you won’t get the virus. Neither vaccines or available antibodies currently exist. Don’t fall for anything that tells you otherwise.
Some scams advertise products as miracle or “secret” cures, such as herbal remedies, certain foods or medications effective for other conditions, but that is not the case for COVID-19 – yet!
Some scammers have set up entirely fake testing sites. These often look very legitimate, with medical personnel in Hazmat suits. Coronavirus tests are not widely available, and in some states, you must show symptoms of the disease to be tested. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved a home test, but it is not yet available.
The Federal Trade Commission recommends checking with local police to verify testing sites.
Fake COVID-19 Sites That Require Your Personal Information
A number of fake websites have also sprung up that are dedicated to COVID-19 information. One popular scam requests you to enter your personal information because someone you know has tested positive, so you can be tested and traced appropriately. Others contain malware or attachments that can be used to harm your computer or gain personal and financial information.
Many of these sites will seem credible because there has been so much recent public discussion about testing and tracing people exposed to COVID-19. It’s a good idea to call a hospital directly or to wait for the U.S. government to contact you by mail.
Finally, beware of sites that capitalize on uncertain financial markets to sell investment advice. Remember that not all financial advisors are the same. Don’t fall for “free advice” or “free wealth management services.” Fee-only fiduciaries have a legal responsibility to put your best interests first. Other financial advisors are not held to these standards and may offer you “free” advice that is ultimately paid through commissions and fees.
Linscomb & Williams is here for you. Contact us if you have questions about your financial future. We will continue to keep you informed.