The global pandemic caused by COVID-19 has caused much worry and fear. Governments, businesses, and individuals have begun to learn how to adapt to COVID-19. Unfortunately, also adapting and becoming more prevalent are individuals who attempt to prey on and use people’s fears of COVID-19 for their own benefit. New types of scammers have emerged—scammers that so far, according to the Federal Trade Commission, have scammed over 8,000 Americans out of over $13 million. These new types of scams are so prevalent and serious that several government organizations, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Federal Trade Commission, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the Federal Communications Commission have published specific warnings on their websites. The purpose of this article is to provide a few tips on how to be sure that you do not fall victim to one of the many new types of scams that have emerged due to COVID-19.
- Be wary of anyone calling or texting you regarding a “miracle” cure or treatment for COVID-19. Scammers know what people are looking to buy and have been creatively adapting to the new coronavirus landscape. Although many people are unemployed and/or have been cutting down on their spending, scammers are now claiming to offer cures or treatment for coronavirus, as well as free COVID-19 testing kits and have even claimed to be selling health insurance. Check cdc.gov/coronavirus for the most current information.
- Be wary of people calling or texting you from the Federal government and asking for personal or financial information. People have already begun to receive their stimulus payments from the Federal Government, although not everyone has received them. The Federal Communications Commission has indicated that nobody from the government will be calling you to verify personal or financial information. Scammers often indicate that they are from the government and in order to release funds to you, like a government stimulus check, they need to verify your personal or financial information. Do not give your personal or financial information to these entities claiming to be the government. If you are in doubt then call the organization directly.
- Be careful about what charity you donate to. While many Americans suffer from a lack of income, there are some who are fortunate enough to have an excess of income and want to provide charitable donations to those in need. However, carefully research which organizations you want to donate to. Be wary of calls, texts, or emails from entities that claim to be charitable organizations. Before you donate any money or divulge financial information be sure to know that you are donating to a legitimate charity. Scammers will often devise names for their charity that seem legitimate or are similar to actual charities. One easy way to make sure your charity is legitimate is to go to reliable websites to get a rating of that charity. Charities are often rated on factors such as financial health, accountability, and transparency. Some of the most popular websites to visit are give.org and www.charitynavigator.org, although there are others.
- Remember the surest sign of a scam. Although the content of scammers’ efforts may have changed slightly due to COVID-19, their underlying methods and objectives are the same. As indicated by the Federal Trade Commission, the surest sign of a scam is if someone asks you to send cash, pay with a gift card, wire money, or pay with cryptocurrency (https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2020/04/scammers-are-using-covid-19-messages-scam-people). Be cautious of anyone asking you to pay for goods or services by one of these methods.
As attorneys practicing in the area of estate planning, we believe in the importance of being prepared. Knowing the signs of a scam can help you be prepared to avoid being a victim of a scam in the future.