Scam Alert/Fraud Alert
Older adults continue to take steps to reduce their risk of exposure to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), and at the same time, staying alert for scammers. Con artists are exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic as a way to steal money, financial assets, and personal information from seniors.
According to the FBI, scammers target seniors because they tend to be homeowners, have financial savings, and good credit. What’s more, older adults also are more vulnerable to fraud because they tend to be more polite and believe what people tell them.
Since the coronavirus outbreak, con artists have been running a variety of scams, from phony investment schemes to fake coronavirus cures. So, seniors should be wary of phone calls, text messages, emails, or social media posts from an unfamiliar individual or company claiming to have a cure, treatment, or a way to prevent COVID-19.
Currently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved a vaccine for the coronavirus disease. More importantly, any major breakthroughs regarding COVID-19 will come through official U.S. government channels, and not through robocalls, text messages, and emails from unknown sources.
Health Agencies Do Not Send Personal Messages
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have been coordinating efforts in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. While the WHO and CDC provide policies and procedures on handling the coronavirus, neither agency will send emails or go on social media to offer products that can prevent or cure the disease.
Scammers have been posing as representatives from the WHO or the CDC and offering fake COVID-19-related products or services via emails, social media, or websites. The scammers’ goal is to get recipients to download malware or input personal identifying or financial information.
Before responding to phony offers allegedly from the WHO or CDC, check the sender’s email address or website address since fraudsters use addresses similar to the legitimate health agencies. For instance, scammers will use a website address such as “cdc.com” or “cdc. org,” instead of “cdc.gov.”
A New Take on an Old Scam
The Grandparent Scam is a favorite among fraudsters. In this deception, a scammer posing as an older adult’s grandchild calls and pretends to be in distress and asks for money. In the latest version of this scam, someone posing as a doctor or a hospital staff member calls and demands payment for treating a friend or a relative with COVID-19.
Keep in mind that a legitimate medical professional or a hospital representative does not call a patient’s grandparent and demand payment for treatment. Also, contact the grandchild or the grandchild’s parent directly to confirm the situation before sending money, gift cards, or a wire transfer to the scammer.
Federal and state securities regulators continue to warn about fraudulent investment opportunities related to companies with products that allegedly can prevent, detect, and cure COVID-19.
The schemers encourage potential investors to buy stock in companies and receive high returns with little to no investment risk or with a small upfront investment. The scammers usually create a false sense of urgency in order for potential investors to make an immediate decision.
Seniors are advised not to give out any personal or financial information to individuals promoting COVID-19 investments, and to discuss any potential investments with legitimate financial advisers.
Soliciting for Fake Charities
Legitimate charitable organizations have been raising funds for people in desperate situations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the coronavirus outbreak began, scammers have been soliciting money for non-existent charities or fundraising events.
Before giving money to any charity, be sure to research the organization or individual asking for donations. Do not give your personal or financial information over the phone to a stranger asking for donations to an unfamiliar charity or on behalf of an individual that you do not know.
COVID-19 Home Test Kits
Scammers have been contacting seniors via telephone calls or text messages offering phony coronavirus test kits. Sometimes, scammers pose as a representative from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and claim that CMS will pay for the COVID-19 tests. But first, the scammer tells seniors to verify their identity by providing their Medicare account number or Social Security number. Another twist to the scam is offering to mail the tests to the senior’s home and asking for their address and credit card information.
Sometimes, con artists go door-to-door and offer to give residents a test. After swabbing the homeowner’s nose, the con artist will ask for payment.
Seniors are advised not to give out personal and financial information to individuals offering home COVID-19 test kits. Seniors who want to get a COVID-19 test should call their doctor or local health department for information on how to get tested.
How to Avoid COVID-19 Scams
- Do not click on links or open email attachments from unknown or unverified sources.
- Do not send cash, wire transfers, or gift cards to companies, organizations, or individuals you do not know. If you are suspicious about a donation request, research the entities or individuals asking for a donation before sending money.
- Know who you’re buying from. Sellers claim to have COVID-19 related products or medical supplies, when, in fact, they do not. Order supplies or products from businesses that you are familiar with, such as local grocery stores, and other legitimate retailers, drug stores, and medical supply companies.
- Hang up on robocalls. If you answer the phone and hear a recorded message instead of a live person, it’s a robocall. Do not follow the direction to press buttons. A robocall message trying to sell you something is illegal unless you gave the company permission to contact you that way, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says.
If you believe that you are a victim of a scam, AARP encourages you to report fraud by calling AARP’s Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360 or file a complaint with the FTC by calling 877-382-4357 or visit ftc.gov/complaint.