COVID Creeps Crawl Out of the Woodwork

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports that coronavirus-related scams have already cost Americans over $40 million so far, with more of these swindlers having even greater success every day.

BILLSHARK hesitates to compare these people to termites, because at least the insects serve a useful purpose (helping recycle dead and decaying trees and plant matter into useful nutrients in the soil). But one thing they both have in common is that they will ruin you if they get into your home.

The types of COVID-19 scams out there are almost endless, but we’ll try to cover some of the more popular ones.

Health-related

Preying on those who are frightened or sick is contemptible, but that doesn’t seem to stop them.

Fake tests, vaccines, and supposed “cures” for COVID-19 top the list of health-related coronavirus scams. If you want blood and saliva from COVID-19 “survivors” to supposedly boost your immunity against the disease, there are plenty of fraudsters ready to supply it. If you believe there’s a secret cure out there that the government is suppressing, these people will sell it to you.

Low-cost coronavirus health insurance is another scam which recently popped up, along with a twist on the old “your grandson is in jail and you need to send money” scam. This one involves someone calling and claiming they are a doctor treating a loved one but they need payment to continue treatment.

Fake contact tracing calls

Just when you thought these slime balls couldn’t get any lower, how about interfering with legitimate state and local efforts to trace the spread of COVID-19? Last week, Florida’s Attorney General Ashley Moody warned that scammers are posing as contact tracers (who call known contacts of those who’ve been infected) attempting to pry from them such information as a social security number, birth date, bank account information, or demanding some kind of payment.

Moody explained that if you receive such a call, an epidemiologist will ask about everyone you’ve come into contact with in the last two weeks, and ask about your current health. But they will already have your birth date though they may ask you to verify it. That’s all. And they will NEVER disclose the identity of the person who tested positive.

Financial-related

Need help with your mortgage? Still haven’t gotten your stimulus check? Need help for your small business?

No, these people can’t help you. Go to the appropriate government website or phone your mortgage servicer if you need assistance.

Also proliferating in this category are the bogus charities. There are many people and organizations in need right now, but if you want to contribute, first check them out with the Better Business Bureau, guidestar.org, give.org, or your state’s attorney general’s office.

Work-at-home scams

These scams come in two flavors: making money at home and fake bosses and co-workers.

The first is perennial: Knowing how desperate some 45 million out-of-work Americans are to make money, they tell you you can easily make money from home. Either send them money to buy their envelope-stuffing material (or something similar), or deposit this “check” into your bank account and wire them the money (the check is fake, and you’ll owe the bank the money).

The newest twist targets those who have been working from home during the pandemic. Hackers break into a network and send messages to employees requesting “verification” of passwords or personal information. Call your office if you get such a message to verify its authenticity.

Student loan forgiveness

There was (unfortunately) no provision for student loan forgiveness in the CARES Act passed this spring, and anyone who says your loan can be forgiven in exchange for a small payment is a crook.  All federally backed student loans automatically received a forbearance (a temporary no-interest payment freeze) through 30 September of this year, while private lenders are trying to make some accommodations for the crisis.

If they promise to enroll you in a federal income-driven repayment plan, realize you can do this yourself for free.

And countless others . . .

The scammers never stop:

  • ransom demands for supposedly compromising intimate moments caught on your webcam
  • fake fines from the government for violating stay-at-home orders
  • stock offers to get in on the ground floor of a company developing a coronavirus cure
  • hundreds of bogus websites (tip: if they have “coronavirus” or “covid” in their URL, they’re probably fake)
  • emails containing links that will download malware
  • social media threads, links, or groups that promise inside information on the virus
  • and on, and on, and on . . .

Mobile platforms aren’t immune either, so don’t be lulled into a false sense of security.

Red flags

In general, here are the signs to watch out for:

  • anything unsolicited: emails, texts, or phone calls that you did not initiate
  • anything involving money: whether checks sent to you or requests to purchase gift cards
  • any emails or texts purporting to be from the government, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization, especially if they ask for personal information or money
  • any communication pressuring you for personal information or money
  • any links in unsolicited email, texts, or social media threads

And please warn your parents and grandparents, who may be especially susceptible to honest-sounding pitches designed to take their money.

One offer you can be sure is totally legit is BILLSHARK’s promise to reduce your bills or you pay nothing.

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