As the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic continues, most of our attention has been focused on fighting this disease and the economic consequences of our response. While we continue the fight this disease, we must also be sure to not let our guard down against fraud. Recently, there have been numerous reports of scams taking advantage of this pandemic.
In the 21st century we are blessed with innumerable means of communication – mail, telephone, email, and text messaging are just a few. Unfortunately, as we continue to develop new ways to conduct business and connect with family and friends, scammers are consistently looking for ways to use these means to steal Americans’ personal information and hard-earned money. Many criminals or organizations send deceptive messages with aggressive tones or seemingly time sensitive issues in order to trick victims.
Since this crisis began, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has received reports of scammers contacting Americans and impersonating physicians, or government agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Health and Human Services physicians, attempting to access personal information or solicit donations to fake Coronavirus relief efforts. It is hard to imagine people using something as serious as COVID-19 to steal from people, however, it is the sad reality we are facing. To stay ahead of the latest scam techniques, the FTC’s website has a great list of tips, practices, and things to look out for: consumer.ftc.gov/topics/privacy-identity-online-security
Among the most widely publicized provisions of the CARES Act, the most recent piece of legislation enacted to address the financial fallout from COVID-19, is the $1,200 economic impact payments to assist most Americans financially during this crisis. The Treasury Department continues working to ensure this program is easily accessible. Social Security recipients and anyone who has filed a tax return for 2018 or 2019 will receive these payments automatically. Other qualified Americans will be able to fill out a simple tax return directly through the IRS to establish eligibility and provide payment information.
Taking advantage of the widespread attention this program has received, criminals have been contacting people under the guise of facilitating registration for these Economic Impact Payments, in an effort to steal personal information or route your payment to themselves. Be sure to check out the IRS’ website for accurate information about these payments: https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/economic-impact-payments-what-you-need-to-know
We should also be vigilant against efforts to sell unproven so-called cures for COVID-19 without proper medical supervision. People or organizations claiming to have the cure for COVID-19 or supplements to ward off the virus, could likely be taking advantage of the situation and should be properly scrutinized. While vaccines and pharmaceuticals to address the virus are in development, none have been approved for widespread use by the public. Be sure to take medical advice only from medical professionals and only use prescribed treatments.
We know overcoming this disease will not be fast or easy, but we are all doing our part to hasten recovery by practicing social distancing and adhering to other recommended precautions. However, we must also be aware of those seeking to take advantage of this pandemic. By being alert, well informed, and careful with our information, we can prevent much of the identity theft and fraud from these scams.