Over the past several months, our country and others around the world have pulled inward, slowed down, and taken a more conservative pace amidst the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders. Yet, scammers are showing their ugly faces by turning up the volume and initiating aggressive campaigns to commit fraud using a broad range of scams.
Fraud does not discriminate. Anyone can be the victim of fraud. The elderly, the young, individuals and businesses. Our country and other world economies are facing challenging economic, financial and health-related hardships. Such hardships are the catalyst of uncertainty, scarcity and fear. Anxiety is showing itself on one level or another. During moments of crisis, emotions begin to override the logical insights we carry and leverage, especially when we are desperate for answers and solutions. Scammers feed off our fears and try to take advantage of the pain points in life.
As usual, the majority of fraudulent activity and source of complaints take place through robocalls, fake text messages, emails and online purchases.
Most of the circulating text messages and emails carry a COVID-19 theme, but they are nothing more than basic phishing schemes, which are a fraudulent attempt to obtain sensitive information such as user names, passwords, and credit card details. Scammers reach out electronically to entice consumers to simply click on a link or open an attachment in order to access and harvest their personal information.
Anxiety and emotions are running high during the current pandemic. Emails are hitting personal inboxes promising vaccines, treatments and products relating to the coronavirus. The email recipient is then directed to click on a link to a website where their information is obtained and compromised. These emails ask for credit card information for products and services, which often never arrive.
Keep in mind, there are no current vaccines or treatments. If the solicitation is for a product or service, be careful. If truly interested, then research the company or organization on your own. Visit secure and official websites independently, not through the embedded links. Confirm the sender’s identity. Look for typos and inaccuracies. While not all, many online messages and entities relating to COVID-19 are fake.
In addition, government agencies such as the IRS and Social Security Administration will never call, text or email you. These agencies will reach out to you through the mail, even during COVID-19. No legitimate agency will ask you to pay anything for your stimulus check nor will they contact via phone, text or email demanding that you provide sensitive personal or financial information.
Finally, there has been a recent surge in the number of charitable and co-funding entities, particularly around the coronavirus. Many are fraudulent, illegitimate and nonexistent. Do your homework. Research. Is the entity legitimate? Do not feel rushed. This is your money. Do not send cash in the mail, gift cards, wire money or Bitcoin.
Never give confidential information. Scammers like your fears.
In summary, everyone is subject to fraud. White-collar crimes. These frauds are NOT about intelligence. They are more about how these criminals get around people’s intelligence. Scammers do not want you thinking or deciding. They will push you and will try to get you to switch off the logical side of your brain. Scammers feed off your emotions, your fears, and during times of uncertainty.
COVID-19 is impacting all of us on one level or another. Many individuals and businesses are facing economic and financial uncertainty. There is scarcity. What a perfect playground for fraudulent activity. Whether tomorrow or just a few years from now, there will be a different theme. Through it all, same old scams. As a consumer, you can feel empowered to recognize, deflect and refuse fraud. Though never absolute, we have the ability to minimize the impact of fraud upon ourselves and those close to us.
Stay alert to the variety of activities related to COVID-19, familiarize yourself with these scams and how they work. Your best defense is to stay informed and to report fraud to the FBI, FTC and to your local law enforcement agencies. Support fraud prevention.
Jamie Sorrells is the director of Consumer Fraud Protection for the 18th Judicial District Attorney’s Office, which serves Douglas, Arapahoe, Elbert and Lincoln counties. For additional resources, questions, speaking engagements, or to report an incidence of consumer fraud, please reach out to email@example.com or call the Consumer Fraud Protection Hotline at (720) 874-8547. This column is hosted by the Seniors’ Council of Douglas County. For more information, please visit www.MyDougCoSeniorLife.com, email DCSeniorLife@douglas.co.us or call 303-663-7681.
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