How to Protect Yourself from Coronavirus Scams
With new coronavirus-related scams popping up, it’s more important than ever for seniors to be aware and learn how to protect themselves from fraud. Fraud can take many forms. People are seeing coronavirus scams in their email inbox, on their social media pages, and on different websites. Individuals are also receiving fraudulent calls and texts during this pandemic. But in most cases, a little research on the most common scams can keep you safe. Here are some pandemic-specific scams and a few reminders to keep in mind.
COVID-19 vaccine and treatments
Some scams are offering a COVID-19 vaccine, cure, or other treatment in exchange for payment. They may claim to be from well-known research hospitals, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or even the World Health Organization. No vaccine or other treatments are currently available for the public.
Seniors will want to watch for over-the-counter coronavirus scams as well. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have issued warnings against misbranded products. These products can include teas, essential oils, and colloidal silver posing as treatments or preventives against coronavirus.
Request for Medicare/Medicaid information—in exchange for a mask or test
Email and telemarketing scams are sending unsolicited offers for tests, masks, or other protective equipment, asking for either a Medicare number or social security number. It’s important to know that the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will never contact you unless given your permission. They also will never call with a sales purpose, visit you in person, or enroll you over the phone unless you’ve requested to do so.
Only give your information to known and trusted doctors, pharmacists, and people working with Medicare on your behalf. If you do receive a call claiming to be from your healthcare company and asking for your information, hang up and call your provider’s listed phone number to make sure the request is legitimate.
Stimulus and other financial payments
Carefully consider anything claiming to be from the IRS. The IRS only contacts by official mail, not by phone or email. And the IRS will only request ID information through the mail or during a transaction on the IRS website. (Keep in mind that the IRS website should not reached by an unsolicited or advertised link.) Any requests for information that aren’t directly from the IRS should be refused and reported to the Federal Trade Commission. It’s also a good idea to delete any request you receive after reporting it.
Examine any forms of payment that arrive in the mail. Legitimate checks will have a water mark, the US Treasury seal, bleeding ink, and microprinting. A fake check will give access to your bank account, so it’s important to verify that your payment is real. (It’s also important to know that loan offers claiming to be part of the stimulus package don’t exist.)
The WHO is alerting the public that criminals are claiming to be WHO officials and requesting both money and sensitive information. The criminals are also presenting lotteries, prizes, grants, and conferences under the WHO name. The WHO will never ask for a username or password to access safety information, email non-requested attachments, or ask you to visit any link outside of www.who.int. Any request that does otherwise should be refused and reported to WHO.
Many charities will be asking for help related to the COVID-19 impact. Charity scams happen year-round, so it’s best to research and verify all charities and only donate through secure forms (no cash, gift cards, or wire transfers). The FTC also advises avoiding all ads and entrepreneurs asking for investments in COVID-19 inventions.
An important part of telehealth services is keeping information private and secure. Make sure that you know and trust all companies and doctors for telehealth, especially if it’s a new treatment. If you need new telehealth services or a new doctor during the pandemic, it’s best to go with a trusted local hospital, university, or health care center.
Be careful and skeptical
It’s good practice to stay skeptical and aware of ALL unsolicited communications from a person or company you’ve never had contact with. And even with the familiar names that you may see in email or hear on the phone, it’s best to call back that person or company to confirm the message is legitimate.
If you do receive unsolicited phone calls, it’s advised not to engage. The callers are trained to pitch and smoothly respond to any situation, and can often be deceptively friendly and conversational. The FCC has published existing phone and text scams to help everyone know what to avoid.
By keeping information as secure as possible with trusted partners, you can greatly reduce fraud risk from coronavirus scams. If you’re interested in learning more about scams, including fraud not related to the coronavirus, we recommend this webinar hosted by our community The Gardens at Town Square and presented by Leeta Scott, AARP Fraud Fighter.