Once again, the lowlifes among us have found more ways to prey on other people’s misery. Work-at-home pandemic scams and phony investment opportunities have soared, raising people’s hopes then stealing their money, according to a recent report from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
“Scammers have been even bolder during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Andrew Smith, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection in a call to the media.
“So many of us are unemployed or underemployed, stuck at home and badly in need of income,” Smith said. “In fact, the number of income scams reported to the FTC reached the highest level on record in the second quarter of 2020. These scammers are taking advantage of a desperate situation to rip money form the hands of those of us least able to afford it.”
The agency has already initiated legal action against many of these pandemic scams. Some scams the FTC recounted were imaginative, wide-ranging, and even outlandish.
For example, one group of companies used robocalls promising people lucrative work as Amazon affiliates, according to the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.
The script read: “Amazon recognizes the health concerns concerning the coronavirus. Amazon is offering you an opportunity to work from home as an Associate member and make up to $400 a day.”
In reality, “These companies charged people hundreds or thousands of dollars and left them with nothing but a badly designed website,” Smith told reporters.
Another targeted Latina victims, telling them they could work from home reselling luxury products such as brand-name perfumes. Ads in Spanish on California-based TV stations, and ultimately scammed consumers of more than $7 million.
The scammers targeted “Latina consumers in the midst of the COVID-19 health and economic crisis . . . seizing on economic insecurity in the community,” the FTC complaint said.
Other typical pandemic scams that prey on people’s financial desperation range from…
- fake job offers
- phony investment or pyramid schemes
- fake-check scams
- Targets receive bogus checks to deposit in their bank accounts. They’re then asked to return some of the money, usually in the form of a gift card.
The classic red flag is any offer that sounds too good to be true. Whether for a dream job or an astonishing return on your investment, lofty promises usually mean trouble.
The most popular employment scams continue to be those offering to let people work from home. It’s so easy with the Internet to create a false persona. The FTC shows over 400 results when searching for “job scams.”
Here are some of the most popular:
- job offers for which you have to pay a fee;
- job offers that require personal data (social security number, bank account, etc.)
- helping a company transfer funds elsewhere;
- job interviews using IM accounts; and,
- job placement services.
Other red flags include:
The number-one warning sign of an employment scam is a requirement to pay the company money. They often disguised this as a “registration fee,” a “training fee,” or a “materials fee.”
A company may send you money to deposit in your checking account, and then send on to someone else or even return to the sender. You find out days later that the check you deposited is worthless, and you’re out the full amount.
“High-pressure sales pitches are always a big red flag,” Smith warned. Any offer that requires you to sign up immediately, or pitchmen who answer questions evasively is fake.
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“Our experience shows us that glowing [testimonials] can be fake, and online reviews can be made up,” Smith said.
Other warning signs:
“If anyone is asking you to send them gift cards, to purchase something, to pay for something, or to reimburse money they deposited in your bank account, it’s a scam,” Maryland’s Attorney General Brian Frosh told reporters recently.
If you come across a financial opportunity that seems suspicious, do your research before investing a penny. Type in the company’s name followed by “scam” to see what others have reported about the offer or the company.
And double-check with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and the FTC to find out whether the offer is legitimate.
If you’ve been scammed, report it to the BBB, the FTC, your state’s attorney general’s office, and local law enforcement. And don’t hesitate to warn others. Use your social media network to alert people who may have seen the same posting and could be taken in.
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