The following is presented for informational purposes only.
It’s a sad, infuriating story, but one we should all we be pretty familiar with by now: Something terrible happens that completely disrupts lives…and then the scammers show up.
We’ve seen this repeatedly in the wake of massive disasters. Now, as the coronavirus pandemic continues to evolve, we’re already seeing individuals across the globe attempting to take advantage of growing confusion and fear at the expense of those who are suffering most.
At the outset of the outbreak, this took the form of hording and price gouging, as individuals bought up massive quantities of crucial supplies (including face masks and Clorox wipes). Now, as various organizations begin rolling out relief solutions, we’re starting to see new scams develop.
As you navigate this incredibly challenging situation, be on the lookout for the warning signs of a potential scam. Here are a few scams that have already appeared, but it’s a certainty that there will be more.
Fake Vaccinations or Preventatives
There isn’t a vaccination for COVID-19 currently available, and there are no commercial products that can make you immune to the virus. Beware on anyone trying to sell you a vaccine or a "cure". If you’re going to invest in preventative measures, follow the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and make sure you have the ability to wash your hands regularly and disinfect all commonly touched surfaces.
Beyond that, practice social distancing and use good judgment.
Fake Government Relief Checks
There’s an ongoing discussion about what steps the government might take to help families and individuals through this crisis. With massive shutdowns and recommended (and sometimes required) self-isolation, there are a lot of workers who can’t make a living right now. There’s also been an enormous toll on multiple industries as consumers shy away from travel, entertainment, and more.
One option on the table is that the government will start cutting everyone a check. Leaving aside the logistics of how that might work and whether or not it’s the right idea, it’s absolutely the sort of situation scammers are looking to take advantage of.
The FTC recently released a few crucial tips on how to protect yourself from “fake government check” scammers:
You will not have to pay anything to receive your relief funds. Assuming this option moves forward, there is absolutely no way you will be asked to pay a fee to access your funds. Be extremely suspicious of anyone attempting to charge you upfront.
The government will not call you and ask for sensitive information. Do not give your Social Security number or private bank information to an unknown, unverified party over the phone.
Anyone offering something that doesn’t exist is probably a scammer. You best defense against any scammer is good information. Try to stay current on what is and isn’t happening. Until the government actually decides to start sending out relief funds, anyone claiming to help you receive those funds is likely trying to scam you.
Beware of Phony Charities
There will always be unscrupulous people willing to manipulate the generosity and kindheartedness of others. Phony charity and crowdfunding schemes are a year-round scam, but they tend to increase exponentially in the wake of a disaster or crisis.
Make no mistake – giving to charity is absolutely a noble and worthwhile thing to do. Just make sure you do your research. Just because something has a lot of likes on Facebook doesn’t mean it’s legitimate. Try to stick to nationally recognized charities or local organizations you’ve personally verified. Your local food banks, shelters, and free clinics are great places to start.
Another thing to consider: how a charity wants you to donate. If they’re insistent on things like cash, gift cards, or a wire transfer – popular currency for scammers – they’re likely not legitimate.
Unfortunately, scams like this aren’t going away anytime soon. And as this outbreak develops, we’re likely to see more and more attempts to trick consumers out of money they absolutely cannot afford to lose right now. So stay smart, stay vigilant, and if it seems too good to be true, it almost certainly is.