Could This be a Scam?
By Kathy Ferguson, RN, Parish Nurse
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Psalm 46:1
“If you believe that, then I have a bridge to sell you.” A New York con man, George Parker, is said to have sold the Brooklyn Bridge many times in the late 1800s/early 1900s. In addition, he also sold the Statue of Liberty, Madison Square Gardens, Grant’s Tomb, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art to vulnerable and unsuspecting individuals, many of them immigrants. According to Ian Cunningham in Your Money (2015), the earliest attempted fraud occurred in 300 BC in Greece. Today cons, scams, and frauds are rampant. The FBI has a list of 30 different types of scams! Under each of these types, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of actual scams that are occurring or have occurred related to the type. In addition, during the pandemic, there has been an increased number of scams related to COVID-19 treatments and cures. In this month’s article, we will look at current scams specific to COVID-19, how to identify a potential scam, how to avoid a scam, and what you should do if you believe you have been scammed.
According to AARP, “as of February 1, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) had logged nearly 339,000 consumer complaints related to COVID-19 and stimulus payments, 69 percent of them involving fraud or identity theft. Victims have reported losing $320 million, with a median loss of $307.”
Here are some tips from AARP for avoiding the current scams related to COVID-19 gathered from various agencies and organizations:
Avoid online offers for coronavirus cures or faster access to vaccines. They aren’t legitimate. It is not possible to pay to get the COVID-19 vaccine earlier. The COVID-19 vaccine is provided free of charge to all.
Be wary of emails, calls, and social media posts advertising “free” or government-ordered COVID-19 tests.
Don’t click on links or download files from unexpected emails, even if the email address looks like a company or person you recognize. The same goes for text messages and unfamiliar websites.
Don’t share personal information such as Social Security, Medicare, and credit card numbers in response to an unsolicited call, text, or email.
Be skeptical of fundraising calls or emails for COVID-19 victims or virus research, especially if they pressure you to act fast and request payment by prepaid debit cards or gift cards.
Ignore phone calls or emails from strangers urging you to invest in a hot new stock from a company working on coronavirus-related products or services.
Sources: FTC, FCC, FBI, SEC
Certainly, COVID-19 is on our minds and in our lives these days and has provided an environment for scams to grow. However, scams have been and will continue to be around after COVID-19 is controlled. Scammers can be very devious and play on your emotions. Here are some ways that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says that you can identify if something is a scam.
Scammers pretend to be from an organization you know.
Scammers often pretend to be contacting you on behalf of the government. They might use a real name, like the Social Security Administration, the IRS, or Medicare, or make up a name that sounds official. Some pretend to be from a business or charity you know.
Scammers say there is a problem or a prize.
They might say you’re in trouble with the government. Or you owe money. Or someone in your family had an emergency. Or that there is a virus on your computer.
Some scammers say there’s a problem with one of your accounts and that you need to verify some information.
Others will lie and say you won money in a lottery or sweepstakes but must pay a fee to get it or provide your credit card number.
Scammers pressure you to act immediately.
Scammers want you to act before you have time to think. If you are on the phone, they might tell you not to hang up so you can’t check out their story.
They might threaten to arrest you, sue you, take away your driver’s or business license, or deport you. They might say your computer is about to be corrupted.
Scammers tell you to pay in a specific way.
They often insist that you pay by sending money through a money transfer company or by putting money on a gift card and then giving them the number on the back.
Some will send you a check (that will later turn out to be fake), tell you to deposit it, and then send them money.
The following are some actions you can take to avoid a scam:
Be aware that you are at risk from strangers who want to take advantage of you.
NEVER give your credit card, banking, Social Security, Medicare, or other personal information over the phone unless you initiated the call.
Block unwanted calls and text messages. At the very least, do not answer calls from unknown numbers or respond to text messages that seem odd or are from someone you don’t know.
Take your time in making a decision. Legitimate businesses will allow you time and will not rush you. Anyone who pressures you to pay or give them your personal information is a scammer. Always ask for and wait until you receive written material about any offer or charity.
Never pay someone who insists you pay with a gift card or by using a money transfer service. Never deposit a check and send money back to someone.
Stop and talk to someone you trust. Before you do anything else, tell someone — a friend, a family member, a neighbor — what happened. Talking about it could help you realize it is a scam.
Falling for a scam is something that most people do not like to admit to. It can be embarrassing—“How did I fall for that?” According to Carrie Kerskie, an identity theft expert, if you or someone you know has been scammed, it is crucial to notify the proper authorities as soon as possible. Overall, the best and most important step you can take after falling for a scam is to tell someone. At the very least, notify law enforcement*, and do so immediately. In the event you have been scammed, there are steps to take. These include contacting the following:
*Law Enforcement (Most important step!)
A scam constitutes fraud, which is a criminal act. Notify law enforcement immediately once you realize that you have been conned. This will enable you to obtain a police report, which could possibly help you recoup your losses. It will also allow law enforcement to begin their investigation promptly. At the very least, your notifying law enforcement will allow them to issue proper warnings about the ploy to others.
Your Family Members and Friends (Important!)
You may think that if you tell your family, they will feel you are unfit to manage your affairs. This is what scammers want you to think. Telling someone else may prevent that person for falling for the scam too. Friends or family can provide emotional support and help you with what you need to do next.
Your Financial Institutions (Important!)
If you provided a scammer with your bank information or they were able to steal funds from your account, you need to contact your financial institution(s) immediately.
All Three Credit Bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion)
If the scammer was able to obtain your personal identifying information (social security number, date of birth, etc.), then you should contact all three credit bureaus and place a free 90-day fraud alert on your credit reports.
The Social Security Administration (SSA)
If your social security number was exposed, you will need to contact the Social Security Administration by calling 1-800-772-1213.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
The FTC is the national clearinghouse for consumer complaints. They use the information from callers like you to create public warnings. Because the FTC is familiar with many different types of scams, they may also be able to provide you with information on your rights and additional steps you can take to protect yourself.
It is sad to think that we must doubt everything and everyone, but it is important to be cautious. Anyone can be scammed. Scammers tend to prey on vulnerable people, but no one is immune from scammers.
Be safe. Be well.
Federal Bureau of Investigation (n.d.) Common scams and crimes. https://www.fbi.gov/scams-and-safety/common-scams-and-crimes
Federal Trade Commission (2020). How to avoid a scam. https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/how-avoid-scam
Kerskie, C. (2015) Steps to take after falling for a scam. Aging Care: https://www.agingcare.com/articles/steps-to-take-after-falling-for-a-scam-187073.htm
National Council on Aging (n.d.) 8 tips for how seniors can protect themselves from money scams. https://www.ncoa.org/economic-security/money-management/scams-security/protection-from-scams/
Waggoner, J. and Markowitz, A. (2021). Beware of robocalls, texts and emails promising COVID-19 cures or stimulus payments: coronavirus scams spreading as fraudsters follow the headlines. AARP: https://www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/info-2020/coronavirus.html