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COVID-19: The Scams To Look Out For

COVID-19: The Scams To Look Out For
By Kristina James
Published by Ruby

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Being in your 70’s or 80’s during this COVID-19 outbreak is tough enough. The rising risk of scammers can make it even tougher.


Knowing the signs gives us help and hope.

The last two weeks in our country have seen some of the hardest times in recent history. From the rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus to the particular threat it imposes on elderly and immunocompromised family members, this global pandemic will test our personal and collective strength and wits. One such test has nothing to do with health, really. Peppered among the COVID-19 headlines are stories of people who are taking advantage of others during this outbreak—scammers.

Knowing the signs—what these scams might look and sound like—will help us know how to combat them.

COVID-19: Various Scams and How To Defend Yourself

The Scam: Door-to-door “Help”

Along with the spreading virus, there’s a spreading need for day-to-day help among those most at-risk. Since being in public spaces raises the risk of contagion, even the simple task of grocery shopping has become daunting. Scammers see this need as an opportunity. Accounts are growing of seemingly well-intentioned strangers appearing at the doorsteps of the elderly to offer help with grocery shopping or house-cleaning, only to take their money never be seen again. These people can appear very official, claiming to be with a charity organization or church, and can look like anything from door-to-door offers to Craigslist or Facebook ads.

The Defense: Vet Your Helpers

For every ill-willed scammer in your community, there’s someone who genuinely wants to help. Look for those individuals, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. You may have family, friends, or trusted neighbors that you can readily ask to help you with errands like shopping or picking up prescriptions. If not, reach out to known charities, churches, and help groups in the public sector for help. A good rule of thumb for vetting charities is this: if a group requires personal information such as your SS number, date of birth, or bank account info, they’re probably not legitimate and could be harmful to your personal security.


The Scam: Internet Fraudsters

Cybercriminals are among the most adaptable of scammers. Anytime they see a trending news topic—particularly one that can be fear-inducing—they’ll use it to target unassuming people. COVID-19 cybercriminals typically take to your inbox, sending out official-looking emails claiming to be from the CDC, the World Health Organization, or other research groups. The emails often aggressively direct the recipient to click on a link, pay for more information, or even provide personal information.

The Defense: Resist Urgency

Internet frauds— often referred to as “phishing”—will usually try to create a sense of urgency, using language like “Act Now!”, “Supplies are running out!”, and other assertive phrases. These messages are engineered to make you feel anxious—like time and resources are of the essence. Even if a message seems credible, it’s good practice to pause, read carefully (if it’s a fraudulent email, there will likely be typos and inconsistencies), and do some research before acting.


The Scam: Online Shopping

It won’t come as a surprise that this pandemic has caused an economic outcry for some basic goods. Toilet paper, hand sanitizer, household cleaners—they’re disappearing off the shelves and their prices online are skyrocketing. An online retail scam can play out a few different ways. It could be that a listing for face masks or cleaning products is illegitimate, and when you go to buy the product, it never actually comes. Maybe there’s a listing on a major retailer—such as Amazon or eBay—for hand sanitizer, but the price is far above what you would normally pay. The seller might actually have the item in stock, and may actually send it to you when purchased, but the scam is that they are ripping you off with higher prices than are reasonable.

The Defense: Research & Insure

Reviews are a good place to start when double-checking internet retailers. Do a quick search of the seller’s name—is there anything fishy about their selling history? Do a quick read-through of the reviews—an absence of reviews or overabundance of hyper-positive ones is a good tip-off. Get a second opinion. Ask a friend or family member to look at the listing and see what they think. If you end up making the purchase, using a credit card is a good idea since “most major credit card providers insure online purchases.”


With these protective measures, you can defend yourself against COVID-19 scammers.


Avoid the scammers, cling to those you trust. We can get through this together.

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