Here’s to a Safer 2021…
WITH SCAM WATCH LESSONS FROM 2020
When we look back on the challenges of 2020, scams and elder fraud may not be the first things that come to mind. But 2020 was a banner year for scammers. Criminals exploited the pandemic in many ways that should provide a warning for the New Year—and the ongoing need to guard against fraud.
Older adults were often the targets because the pandemic has left so many isolated and vulnerable. In one fast-growing scam, crooks lured consumers onto fraudulent websites, where they pretended to offer adorable puppies for sale. Yet the pets were never delivered and didn’t even exist. According to the Better Business Bureau, the puppy scams typically cost victims $700.
Throughout the pandemic, scammers have exploited people’s anxiety and need for treatments and cures, investors’ desire for easy profits, and consumers’ need for protective supplies. They attempted to steal relief checks. And they pursued these goals with the help of email, texts, robocalls, and technologies that hid their true identities.
Law enforcement has warned about phony financial offers on Facebook and other social media, as well as fake clinical trials for Covid-19 cures—all designed to capture personal information. They have also blown the whistle on an elder fraud scam in which strangers offer household help to vulnerable seniors—only to take their money.
Nationally, victims have reported losing more than $189 million in stimulus-related schemes, a problem that recently prompted Florida’s attorney general to put out a consumer alert. Criminals have reportedly found ways to connect with each other on the Dark Web and exchange intelligence for use in pandemic-related schemes. Con artists have posed as contact tracers to pry personal data out of unsuspecting individuals. And identity thieves have used victims’ names to apply for illicit unemployment benefits.
Fortunately, you can protect your identity and savings and elude the scammers by recognizing certain red flags. The Federal Trade Commission offers the following advice to help you avoid becoming a victim to pandemic frauds – and their future variations:
- Don’t respond to texts, emails or calls about checks from the government. Here’s what you need to know.
- Ignore offers for vaccinations and miracle treatments or cures. Scammers are selling products to treat or prevent COVID-19 without proof that they work.
- Learn how to tell the difference between a real contact tracer and a scammer. Legitimate tracers need health information, not money or personal financial information.
- Be wary of ads for test kits. Most test kits being advertised have not been approved by the FDA and aren’t necessarily accurate.
- Hang up on robocalls. Scammers are using illegal robocalls to pitch everything from low-priced health insurance to work-at-home schemes.
- >Watch for emails claiming to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or World Health Organization (WHO). Use sites like coronavirus.gov and usa.gov/coronavirus to get the latest information (see below). And don’t click on links from sources you don’t know.
- Do your homework when it comes to donations. Never donate in cash, by gift card, or by wiring money.
Remember: you can get in front of the scammers by protecting your/your loved ones’ finances, identity, and real estate. Identity theft is only part of the problem, and typical credit report monitoring services will not alert you to issues like the use of stolen credit/debit cards, fraud in investment and retirement accounts, the opening of new depository accounts, or changes to the title of your home. A comprehensive platform like EverSafe—will.