Scammers always take advantage of disasters and other alarming situations. With the CORVID-19 pandemic, it wasn’t long before we began to hear about people selling face masks online that they never deliver and false claims for products that can supposedly treat or even prevent the virus.
We’ve also seen emails that look like they’re from the World Health Organization or other trusted sources with information about how to protect yourself, but when you click on the link or attachment it infects your computer with malware that steals your personal information or holds your computer for ransom. In another email scam, the message appears to be from the government offering money and asking for your banking and other personal details.
My electric company just issued a warning about imposters who are calling pretending to be from the utility and demanding payment. These scams aren’t new, but people who are struggling to pay their bills because they’ve lost their jobs due to the pandemic are especially vulnerable and may be unaware that many utilities are suspending collections during this emergency period. Investment scams are also common during times of financial stress. There is no such thing as a 100% safe investment.
While many scams rely on scare tactics, others are designed to appeal to your desire to help other people in need. The US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia recently warned that scammers are soliciting donations for individuals, groups, and areas affected by the virus.
Since scammers are endlessly creative, we’re sure to see more frauds related to COVID-19. Here are things you can do to protect yourself:
- Don’t respond to unexpected emails, texts, or calls from anyone you don’t know.
- Reject promises of miracle cures for the coronavirus – there aren’t any.
- Be aware that the government is not calling or emailing to offer you free money.
- Guard your personal information as you would your wallet.
- Only make purchases online from companies you know or have checked out with the Better Business Bureau.
- Avoid charity scams by following basic tips about how to donate wisely.
- If you are having trouble paying your utility bills, ask your state utility regulator if there is a program in place to prevent shut-offs and suspend collections.
- Get information about how to spot investment scams from your state securities regulator.
- If you have any doubts about an offer or request you receive, or suspect that something is a scam, contact your state or local consumer protection agency BEFORE you respond.
- Get your information about the virus from reliable sources, not posts on social media or sketchy news outlets. At https://USA.gov/coronavirus you’ll find information about what the federal government is doing in response to the virus and links to federal agencies and state health departments.