Preying on fear amid the coronavirus pandemic, an entirely new class of con artist has emerged. From HVAC cleaning and antiviral treatments to testing kits and cures, new coronavirus scams are as creative as they are criminal.

The new breed of scammers have one thing in common with the old: their goal is to steal your financial and personal information.

According to the National Council on Aging, telemarketing (phone calls) and Internet fraud, including email (phishing) scams, are among the top financial scams targeting older adults.

Other common coronavirus scams may include:

  • Coronavirus stimulus payments/relief checks
  • Treatment claims, including test kits, vaccinations and cures
  • Medicare scams
  • Loans
  • Undelivered goods, including cleaning and medical supplies
  • Imposter scams
  • Grandparent scams
  • Fake charities
  • Health insurance scams
  • Employment scams, including work-from-home opportunities

Older adults who may not be as tech savvy as their younger cohort are perhaps at greatest risk in part because they are among those most vulnerable to coronavirus disease.

Telemarketing Scams

Telephone scammers primarily target older adults in an effort to steal financial and personal information from unsuspecting people.

Using scare tactics, scammers may impersonate grandchildren claiming to be sick from coronavirus and asking for money. They may claim to be with the Social Security Administration offering stimulus funds. They may ask, “Can you hear me” in an attempt to record your voice saying “yes” and later use the recording of your voice to authorize payments in their name. Or, they may simply ask you to wire money for medical or travel expenses related to Coronavirus.

Medicare recipients are particularly vulnerable to scammers offering Covid testing or relief funds as a means to steal personal information.

If a caller claims to represent a government agency, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommends you hang up and call the phone number on your account statement or on the agency’s official website to verify the authenticity of the call.

During the Covid pandemic, experts recommend older adults be wary of callers asking for charitable donations in an attempt to take advantage of their generosity. If you must give and have the resources to do so, be sure to verify the charitable organization with the Better Business Bureau, IRS’s database of 501(c)3 organizations or your state consumer protection office.

TRACED Act

Fortunately, new legislation regarding computerized calls was passed in December 2019 making it much easier to identify scammers. The TRACED Act makes it easier for consumers to identify suspicious robocalls by labeling them as spam or “Scam Likely.”

According to policy analysts with Consumer Reports, the new TRACED Act requires phone companies to give consumers protection against robocalls by improving the accuracy of the caller-ID displayed on phones.

While new protections are not perfect, they are a step in the right direction and have reduced the volume of unlawful robocalls targeting older adults. In the meantime, Wired Magazine suggests call-blocking applications to block out spam calls.

If you feel you have been a victim of a telephone scam, report it to the Federal Trade Commission or call 1-877-382-4357.

Emails

In addition to phone calls, scams targeting older adults often arrive in the form of an email. Known as phishing scams, cyber criminals impersonate a legitimate organization on a website or an email in an attempt to install malicious software on your computer. The software is designed to gain access to your personal financial information.

During the coronavirus pandemic, malicious emails and text messages are often designed to look like they are from a credible organization, a company or a store you recognize. They may invite you to update your personal information, claim you are eligible for a refund or suggest there is a problem with your account, among other scams.

Security experts and regulators recommend ignoring emails, calls and text messages about coronavirus topics, including offers for stimulus checks, vaccines, test kits and insurance.

Protecting Older Adults From Fraud

Scammers notoriously ask for credit card numbers, Social Security numbers and Medicare numbers in ingenious and manipulative ways.

To protect yourself, never share personal information such as account numbers, login IDs, passwords, PIN numbers or Social Security numbers.

If you are receiving suspicious robocalls, the FTC advises consumers to hang up and not press any numbers or answer “yes” or “no,” which can lead to even more robocalls.

If someone asks you to wire money in exchange for a loan or credit card, you have likely encountered a scammer. It is illegal for telemarketers to ask for payment in the form of a cash-to-cash money transfer.

Most importantly, never send cash, gift cards or money transfers – forms of commerce that offer no protection and means to trace or reverse a transaction.

Online Purchases During Coronavirus

If you are sheltering in place and purchase goods online, only purchase goods from secure websites. To determine if a website is secure and encrypted, look for “https” in the website address.

The minimize the risk of online fraud, cyber security experts recommend updating your operating system to make sure you have the latest security patches and software installed on your computer for protection from viruses, malware and ransomware.

Applications such as PayPal can also provide an extra layer of protection. PayPal is an online service with built-in purchase protection. It keeps your transactions secure by not sharing your full financial information with sellers.

Using a secure and encrypted website, third party services such as PayPal enable you to reverse the charges if a seller does not deliver your goods.

Preying on older adults’ fear during tragedies and disasters, including the coronavirus pandemic, is widespread and growing. Education and awareness are the keys to protecting yourself from becoming a victim.

If you live in Florida and believe you have encountered a financial scam, call 1-877-693-5236 or report it online here.

To learn more about Sonata’s Covid-19 precautionary measures, contact a community near you.

Helpful Resources

Federal Trade Commission Coronavirus Advice For Consumers
https://www.ftc.gov/coronavirus/scams-consumer-advice

Florida State Department of Financial Services Division of Consumer Services
https://www.myfloridacfo.com/Division/Consumers/

Federal Trade Commission Consumer Information: How To Stop Unwanted Calls
https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/how-stop-unwanted-calls

US Food and Drug Administration: Fraudulent Coronavirus 2019 Disease Products
https://www.fda.gov/consumers/health-fraud-scams/fraudulent-coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19-products

Florida State Department of Financial Services Division of Consumer Services – Fraud & Scams
https://www.myfloridacfo.com/Division/Consumers/FraudScams.htm

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Coronavirus (COVID-19)
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html

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