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Scammers prey on Coronavirus fears

By Jill Penley
Freelance Writer

As coronavirus numbers increase, so do the number of dishonest people hoping to capitalize on the pandemic. Scams have spread almost as fast as the virus itself. As of mid-May, nearly 23,500 fraudulent complaints have been logged related to the pandemic, according to the Federal Trade Commissions (FTC). Police, consumer organizations, and Internet security companies are warning about an increasing number of COVID related scams, as the FBI says cybercrime reports are up a whopping 400 percent. The Department of Justice, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Federal Trade Commission have teamed up to warn people about fake contact tracing schemes meant to steal money and sensitive information from victims. 

Contact tracing, a process that attempts to identify people who may have come into contact with a person who has tested positive for COVID-19, requires an infected individual to share information that could help lead those conducting the legitimate contact tracing to find out how many people an infected person has been in contact. The most prevalent scams involve text messages or emails advising you have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus. It is important to note legitimate tracers will request health information, not money or personal financial information.

There are also circulating emails offering vaccines or treatments for COVID-19, neither of which currently exist, or N95 masks, which do exist, but which are not typically offered through emails.The FBI reported charging one physician who was selling a “miracle cure” for the coronavirus. You may also see fake tech support scams where employees who are working from home are offered remote access and other tech support scams.Additionally, there are reports of coronavirus-related charity scams making the rounds. Be careful about any charity calling for donations.

If you wish to help financially, first visit the organization’s website of your choice to make sure your money is going to the correct place. And be wary if you get a call following up on a donation pledge that you do not recall making–it could be a scam. And of course, there are the scams surrounding discounts and stimulus payments. Some offer to help with direct stimulus payments, with the Payroll Protection Plan or with SBA loans.

What they really want is personal banking information. As always, never click on a link claiming to be from an official source unless you are certain the email is genuine. The best practice is to access websites from your bookmarks or by typing the URL. To report suspected fraud schemes related to COVID-19, contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) hotline at 1-866-720-5721 or [email protected]