As the global fear of COVID-19 continues to increase, one big challenge we are seeing is one of the oldest in the book.
Just like old IRS scams that consistently creep in every year, new scams are being created with the new Coronavirus pandemic. The lure of easy money and desperate people are creating a fertile environment for scamming. In addition, incorrect, dated, or unsubstantiated information has made it easy for scammers to seize personal and business information.
Specifically, stimulus funding for small businesses that have been affected by the economic shutdown are main targets. As of April 22, the Federal Trade Commission reported 22,000 scam complaints. Almost 50% of those complained have lost money due to a scam.
None of us have navigated these unique COVID-19 era waters. So, what is the advice on protecting against these new scams?
Nothing different than before!
- Be careful who you respond to
- Hang up on Robocalls
- Watch for emails claiming to be from the CDC or WHO
- Be careful with donations
Be Careful Who You Respond To
The most popular scam right now is from a generated text message, email, or call. These communication methods are most often being used to get people to apply for a loan program (SBA or Payroll Protection Program). In the call, email, or text, they reference a bogus website that the business owner then can visit to begin the loan process. Once a taxpayer goes to these bogus websites, data can start to be seized immediately.
Don’t open the link until you verify the sender. Additionally, don’t answer a call or open an email that looks suspicious.
90% of the time, you are the one who starts an application to a loan program, not by someone contacting you! If you need to start your application, contact your bank or financial institution.
Hang Up on Robocalls
Scammers are using illegal robocalls to get the attention of business owners. They are offering low-priced health insurance, work-from-home software schemes, and so forth.
Make sure that you vet all offers thoroughly online. Never allow them to coerce you into signing up without doing some homework. They might even use a lot of vague and sentimental claims, but give no specifics about the offer in question.
Watch for emails claiming to be from the CDC or WHO
Most emails that claim to be from the CDC or WHO are not real. Just like the IRS, these institutions are not often sending out information by email to the community. They are providing information online, or have a hotline you can call.
One quick way to see whether or not an email is coming from the CDC or WHO is to review the actual sender email address. For example:
You can see clearly that the email is indeed coming from the IRS. This is a proven email domain that you can find online and on the IRS website.
Specifically look for the domain like this to see if there is anything funky going on. Most scammers will not have a valid domain email address.
Be Careful with Donations
Many of us have made donations to help others that have been impacted harder due to the Coronavirus. Yet, we all need to be careful with whom we provide donations, and how to do it safely.
Supporting a cause you care about is awesome, but you also want your donation to count. Do initial research to ensure your donations get where they will do the most good. There are many charities supporting COVID-19 efforts, but do all of these charities actually support the cause?
Use organizations that have a good track record and are members of the communities. Those that have been created for the sole purpose of helping with COVID-19 should be considered carefully.
Also, be careful how you pay. Paying by credit card or check is always safer than cash, gift card, and wire transactions.
Don’t let an organization rush you into making a donation. They may even try to thank you for a donation that you have yet to make. These are all signs that you are not dealing with a legitimate business.
There you have it. Four ways to be careful in the COVID-19 scamming era. It is a crazy time, and aside from staying safe with your health, you should also stay safe from scammers. Reach out to the authorities if you have been scammed (or think someone was trying to scam you).