Scam Alert/Fraud Alert
Since the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak, older adults have been taking extra precautions to avoid becoming infected with the disease. Now, seniors must take precautions from being conned by fraudsters whose scams are spreading just as quickly as COVID-19 itself.
Scammers posing as Internal Revenue Service (IRS) agents have targeted older adults for their stimulus checks. Other fraudsters have hawked phony COVID-19 test kits, and unproven methods to protect against the virus to get money and personal information from people who buy the products.
Fraudsters have not only targeted seniors but even the federal government. For instance, a 39-year-old Atlanta man was arraigned in federal court in April for trying to sell $750 million worth of face masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The government says Christopher Parris did not have PPE, it was a scam.
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), people have reported a loss of $13.4 million since January from COVID-19-related schemes.
Stealing Stimulus Checks
The IRS and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration have issued warnings about scammers attempting to get access to stimulus checks.
In April, the IRS issued a $1,200 economic impact payment to individuals, $2,400 to married couples, and a payment of $500 per child to eligible recipients. Individuals can go to the IRS website and input personal, banking, and tax return information from 2018 and 2019, to track the status of their checks.
Scammers contact seniors via telephone claiming to be from a business that can help older adults get their money faster if they provide personal information. Scammers also use phony websites, and advertisements on social media to get names, addresses, and financial information. Scammers input this information into the IRS portal to redirect the checks from the legitimate recipients to the scammers.
The IRS has set up a website, IdentityTheft.gov, for people to report stolen checks and get help in recovering from identity theft.
Other Scams For Seniors to Avoid
Scammers have set up other schemes to con older adults out of their money and personal information. Some of the schemes include:
1. Fake COVID-19 Tests
In some states, scammers set up drive-in testing sites. Scammers, dressed in PPE clothing, took mouth swabs from potential victims and required payment in cash. In some cases, fraudsters told the victims to verify their identity by giving their Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid card numbers. Fraudsters also set up websites that advertised do-it-yourself COVID-19 tests. Purchasing the phony test required website visitors to submit personal information.
2. Donations to Fake Charities
Scammers have set up crowdfunding campaigns to solicit donations for non-existent charities. Older adults are advised to do extensive research, especially on charities they are not familiar with, before giving a donation to someone asking for money to support first responders, front-line health workers, and people fighting the coronavirus disease.
3. Solicitations on Social Media
Unfortunately, scammers are using social media to prey on older adults who may not recognize schemes or COVID-19 misinformation. As an example, scammers look for personal information older adults post on their social media pages and use it to steal their identity or contact them with a fake COVID-19 related offer.
4. Grandparent Scams
Grandparent scams have been around for a long time, and the latest involves COVID-19. Generally, scammers contact seniors and pose as their grandchildren who are in some sort of trouble and need money immediately to return home.
The scam has now evolved into someone calling or emailing an older adult pretending to be a grandchild who has the coronavirus and needs money to pay for treatment.
Grandparents should contact their grandchild directly or contact the grandchild’s parents before sending money via wire transfer or a gift card.
5. Phony COVID-19 Treatments
The Internet has been flooded with products that claim to diagnose, treat, and cure the coronavirus. Because of this, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the FTC have jointly sent warning letters to several companies, individuals, and a church to stop advertising unapproved products and making unsupported claims that the products can treat the coronavirus.
One group that received a letter from the federal agencies was the Genesis II Church of Health and Healing in Bradenton, Florida. The church, which describes itself as non-religious, had been selling chlorine dioxide products as a holy sacrament and medical treatment for COVID-19.
Federal agencies and law enforcement officials remind older adults, as well as other consumers, that there is no vaccine or cure for COVID-19.
So, be cautious about any questionable websites, requests for donations, medical devices, and products claiming to diagnose and treat the coronavirus disease.
Is it Real or a Scam?
Older adults with questions about COVID-related products or donations should do extensive research or ask for help in getting information before buying products or giving out their personal information.
Besides doing research, federal agencies offer the following advice:
- Do not click on links in a text message or an email if the sender claims to be from the IRS or any other government agency.
- Do not respond to phone calls from someone claiming to be from the IRS or any other government agency.
- Do not give an unknown caller your bank account, credit card or Social Security numbers. Hang up immediately.
- Do not fall for testimonials of miracle cures from products that claim to treat the coronavirus.
- Do not purchase do-it-yourself kits to test yourself for the coronavirus. Contact your doctor if you have possible COVID-19 symptoms and ask what to do.
What’s more, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.