Commentary / Coronavirus / Safety & Health

Scammers Are Out – Raise Your Guard

scammersChecks from the IRS arrive this week, unemployment insurance in about two weeks, and promises of more relief for seniors lies ahead. But do not think scammers are unaware. Scams are replicating faster than the coronavirus. So, here’s the context and what to watch for.

As of late-March, the Secret Service, FBI and FTC began warning Americans to be on higher guard for scams targeting personal information and money.  Since then, they have raised the ante, warning Americans – especially seniors:  Trickery is getting sophisticated.  See: https://www.fbi.gov/coronavirus.

As society works to keep perspective – balancing constitutional rights against public safety, government intrusion versus individual liberty, information push with public calm, fear with resolution – criminals are working overtime.  As the virus targets physical vulnerabilities, criminals target the unwary and overly trusting.

Here is the state of play:  Fear tied to COVID-19 has people concerned over health and finances.  We all track progress on both fronts – retreat of the virus and restarting of the economy. Crooks know it.  Scams are getting more creative, convincing and pernicious.

Here are six on the prowl.

Email “phishing” scams.  Steer wide of suspect emails – especially attachments encouraging download of new health, financial, safety, mask-availability, or “how to cope” advice.

Scammers know you are concerned.  They want access to your computer to install malware, ransomware, sift your files for social security, banking, credit card, registration and password information.  You would not invite a stranger into your house; do not invite one onto your computer.  If you have even the slightest doubt, do not click.

Virus vaccinations.  They do not exist – so let’s start there.  Secret Service reports a flush of emails offering false cures, vaccinations, inoculations, and useless remedies for COVID-19.  These are not to be believed.  Experts put a vaccine a year out.  When emails offer what seems magical, remember – magic does not exist. A vaccination will come; it is not here yet.

Health gear scams.  Crooks know you want N-95 masks, disposable gloves, sanitizer, bacteria-killing soap, immunity-boosting vitamins, plus hard-to-get health gear and medicine.  They know you want toilet paper, paper towels, disinfectants, and some edge on the virus.

Before you click or order from a company, check the company. Information push is less reliable than your search. Trusted sources are better than the unknown. Products ordered blindly are often useless, faulty, dangerous or simply never come.

The FBI is also finding “cybercriminals impersonating officials at the Center for Disease Control (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO),” as well as other health authorities.  See: https://www.ic3.gov/media/2020/200320.aspx.

Peddlers of junk get “cease and desist” letters from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), but they may get your money first.  Tricks include vague and inaccurate descriptions, mislabeling, misbranding, and practices like describing a product as US-made when it is not.

Heartstring scams.  A raft of cyber-scams surround pulling heartstrings, especially targeting older Americans who feel responsible, have moral compass or give to charities. Your demographic and online presence tell people about you. Crooks parrot back what you care about.

IRS Payment Scams.  An immediate scam relates to IRS payments. The payments, including to retirees, will come shortly. The IRS issued special anti-scam guidance for seniors, worth reviewing.  https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/irs-issues-warning-about-coronavirus-related-scams-watch-out-for-schemes-tied-to-economic-impact-payments.

Special attention by seniors – is warranted.  Deposits come without action.  In rare cases, if no prior IRS filing exists, a “newly designed secure portal” exists at “IRS.gov.”  Checks may also arrive by mail.  Under no circumstances should anyone give direct deposit or banking information” to other than the IRS “secure portal” – and most will not need to go there.

IRS “reminds retirees who don’t normally have a requirement to file a tax return that no action on their part is needed to receive their $1,200 economic impact payment,” and “seniors should be especially careful during this period.”

IRS “reminds retirees – including recipients of Forms SSA-1099 and RRB-1099 − that no one from the agency will be reaching out to them by phone, email, mail or in person asking for any kind of information to complete their economic impact payment,” rebate or stimulus payment.  If you get a call, it is not the IRS.

How can you be sure the IRS knows you exist?  Most of the time we do not ask, but here it is worth asking.  Because the IRS “is sending these $1,200 payments automatically to retirees” based on past IRS information, which means “no additional action or information is needed.”

What else?  Be wary of anyone using terms like “stimulus check” or “stimulus payment,” since the official term is “economic impact payment.”   Seniors are warned against anyone asking for them to “sign over their economic impact payment check,” use an expediting service, reaching to them “by phone, email, text or social media,” or seeking “verification of personal and/or banking information” to “speed up” payment.   Beware “bogus checks,” requiring information to cash.

Tax Fraud and Identity Theft.   Secret Service warns: “Coronavirus is a prime opportunity for enterprising criminals because it plays on one of the basic human conditions — fear.”  The result has been identity-theft scams.  FTC warns appeals that seem “too urgent,” or have misspelled words. See: https://www.secretservice.gov/data/press/releases/2020/20-APR/Secret-Service-Press-Release-Tax-Scam-Identity-Theft.pdf

For protection beyond not opening suspicious emails, officials suggest ideas for avoiding tricksters.  Does that website have “HTTPS” notation?  If not, it may not be an “established URL domain descriptor.”  Do you see a subdomain, like brand followed by “store.com” – rather than brand and .com?  Is there a merchant review?  Does the website’s domain in a browser pop a “certificate error?”  These are all signals.

Bottom line:  Scammers multiply when society is awash in fear, worry, volatility and uncertainty. They rush to capitalize on what we do not know and want to know, do not have and want to have, expect and are unclear about.

In the end, trust what you know and suspect the rest.  If something sounds too good, urgent, targeted, cheap, fast, or preys on emotion – walk a circle.  Seniors are ripe for scammers, so think twice – maybe three times – before you click.  Checks are coming, more relief in sight, but scammers are out and about.  Do not let them trick you.

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josephine pooley
7 months ago

Great information! Thank you AMAC!

Paul W
7 months ago

A crisis always brings out the very best in good people, but it also brings out the very worst in vermin.

Hdrydr
7 months ago

The author did a fantastic job with this article. Mega KUDO’s to you, Mr. Charles.

Stephen Russell
7 months ago

Delete unknown emails , see email address IF not say.com or .gov etc then bogus, block ph# on phone, Do Not Disturb on phone ON.
Apply

Morbious
7 months ago

One of the reasons there is so much of this at all times is that the punishments are so lax as to invite it. These sorts of crimes should result in hard time.

Martha Priest
7 months ago

We have caller I.D. and if we don’t recognize the phone # or name, we don’t answer the phone. Saves a lot of grief.

Grumpyoldcoot
7 months ago

I received a phonecall last week. The caller was trying to sell me a warranty meant to protect my car from mechanical failure expenses. They knew the make of my car, but not the mileage on the odometer. The warranty insurance was about $3,600, with $100 as a down payment, payable with my credit card. It all sounded very legit, but since our car has relatively low mileage, I told them I didn’t do business over the phone, and I didn’t think I needed any warranty insurance anyway, even though they said they would give me a veteran’s discount.. I… Read more »

Brenda Blunt
7 months ago

There should be a way to track these scumbags so that they can be taken out of business permanently!!

John Karkalis
7 months ago

Excellent advice. It should be read carefully. The predators will always be with us, particularly during times of stress and uncertainty. It’s no secret that these lice target the elderly. Conventional wisdom holds that Seniors are more trusting, wealthier, and an easier “mark”. Perhaps, but my experience with Amac members via the letters suggest we are a pretty savvy bunch. Of course, no one is immune from a scam. The only vaccine we have against this behavior is the vaccine of common sense. Amac members who are cyber savvy have a better idea than I have about how to protect… Read more »

Phyllis
7 months ago

Thank you for this article.
It’s bad enough to have to be concerned about Covid19, now we have to be concerned about the invasion of Sewer Rats.

Gram Cracker
7 months ago

Yet another terrific article by Robert Charles! You are a gem and I thank you for the detailed information.

Carla Larson-Tucke
7 months ago

Thanks for your information. Here is another thing. All those pop-up ads on websites, email newsletters. They are Chinese. The Chinese government allows their citizens (for a huge cut and total control) to use the internet to sell inferior goods, manufactured through slave labor, and the profits are mostly confiscated by the Party. Also well over ninety percent of the shops on Amazon are Chinese. I have nothing against the Chinese people per se, but they are being used by the communist government to further the Communist government’s agenda of world domination, and any Chinese millionaires and billionaires are actually… Read more »

JMI
7 months ago

JMI. Thanks so much Mr Charles for your most insightful & very helpful & appreciated information. Look forward to your next
article. God bless you!

Brenda Terpstra
7 months ago

Warnings much appreciated!

Brian L Stannard
7 months ago

I don’t which is worse – the scam or the scammers who are scamming the scam.

Myron C Leidinger
7 months ago

THANK YOU

Ted Chalgren
7 months ago

Great article. Truly helpful. Thank you.

Betty
7 months ago

Thank you for your services!

Dennis Bicking
7 months ago

Thanks, for this fantastic information.

Rickety Rick
7 months ago

from what I have heard from an accountant, these checks are actually a tax credit, not a handout, and it will be rectified and asked for return, when filing your 2020 taxes. If so the real scam is initiated by the government and media, again, as usual. Better check what you are getting into people.

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