COVID Scams and How to Protect Yourself

Online and phone scammers are a constant pain, and have cost their victims around $10.5 Billion in recent estimates. Many of these types of scams involve someone either cold calling off of a phone list using a robocall, or first attacking someone’s computer with a virus and then demanding the victim call a scam company to “fix” their computer for a large fee. These scammers are successful enough of the time to make a lot of money doing it. Some of their success is based on the fact that they know when to strike at people when they are their most desperate.

For example during tax season the IRS and other government agencies run entire campaigns telling the public to not answer phone calls from the “IRS” and certainly don’t pay anyone money over the phone if they claim to be the IRS. The scammers will lie and claim a person is behind on taxes and will threaten arrest and prison time unless the victim pays a substantial amount over the phone. It should be obvious that the IRS doesn’t conduct itself that way, but when the threat is on the other end of the phone many people will pay whatever is demanded to avoid a possible jail sentence.

In our current state of affairs, with a global pandemic and the Federal government sending large amounts of cash to people, it is a perfect time for the scammers to come out again. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) wrote an article last month talking about some of these scams.

A sampling of these are:

Scams offering COVID-19 vaccine, cure, air filters, testing
Fake coronavirus-related charity scams
“Person in need” scams
Scams targeting your Social Security benefits

One of the best ways to avoid being scammed over the phone is to ask what agency this person is supposed to be calling you from and then lookup that agencies actual phone number online and call that back directly and ask to speak with someone who handles whatever issue the original caller brings up. A lot of the time if you are being scammed they will fight you and yell at you to get you to not hang up and call the agency direct, they may even threaten you. That is a big red flag.

There is more great information on the CFPB website, the link above only gets into a small portion of the resources available to you regarding scam avoidance. Whenever it seems desperation and bad news happens, these scammers are there to try to take advantage. Making sure you are well prepared to identify a scam and disrupt it is a major need.

Other good resources:
FTC – Advice for Consumers
FTC – COVID Scams by the Numbers
FCC – COVID Scam Warning Signs (Audio Clips of Real Scam Attempts)