WE’RE HERE FOR YOU – Beware Of COVID-19 Scams

Fraudsters emerge when a crisis occurs. And make no mistake; they are unscrupulous and will use most any method possible to achieve their goals. And with a health crisis like COVID-19, what better way to stir up panic than offering false hope or fabricated solutions?

For example, crooks may share sad stories or claim to provide miracle cures – tapping into natural emotions to get people to buy into their scheme. They may also tap into a sense of fear to swindle money from unsuspecting consumers, especially those who are most vulnerable, such as the elderly, sick, or economically disadvantaged.

At Garden State FCU, we’d like you to be aware of how criminals may try to use the fear of COVID-19 to hurt you. Consider these commons scams, some of which put a new twist on the scams you’ve already seen.

Fake CDC Emails

Schemers are preying on people with emails that claim to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). If you receive a similar email, be sure to verify information, such as the sender’s email address and spelling, to verify the legitimacy of an email, especially those claiming to have information on COVID-19. Don’t click on links that appear suspicious – they may contain malware or ransomware. Most likely, these are fraudulent emails.

Beware of bogus sites like cdc.gov.int, cdc-gov.org, who.gov, or who.edu. The correct website for the WHO is https://www.who.int/ and the CDC is https://www.cdc.gov.

Beware of Phishing Attempts

Never disclose personal information (including usernames, social security numbers, addresses, etc.) in response to an email or phone call. One way to confirm the legitimacy of a website is typing the URL directly into your browser rather than following a link. This enables you to go straight to the source. (For example, to learn about COVID-19, type in the URL directly: cdc.gov or coronavirus.gov.)

When you’re reading through Facebook or your other favorite social media channel and see the ‘cutest’ or ‘saddest’ story that you want to click on regarding the pandemic, think twice. Many of these sites use malicious ads that can infect your computer.

Check for misspellings, questionable email addresses, and bad grammar, as these often signify fraud. You can also research the validity of charities at www.charitynavigator.org.

Stimulus Check Emails

Another phishing email is one that asks for verification of personal information to receive stimulus checks. Remember, the government will not send emails to confirm your personal information. Once the fraudster has your information, they hack your accounts. Also watch for emails claiming to assist with financial relief from the COVID-19 crisis and other related topics, such as airline carrier refunds, cures and vaccines, and fake testing kits.

The FTC also warns not to respond to texts and emails about checks from the government – and anyone who solicits you saying they can get you the money faster or right now is a fraudster.

Bogus Charities

The FTC advises that you research before making any donation, including charities or crowdfunding sites claiming to assist with the pandemic. It also states not to let anyone rush you into donating, and if someone wants donations in cash, by gift card, or by wiring money, don’t do it.

Only donate to proven, reputable charities. You can research the validity of charities at www.charitynavigator.org. You can also learn more on the FTC website.

Fake Account “Alerts”

An individual may receive false or malicious alerts stating your credit union or other financial institution account has been “temporarily suspended,” “deactivated,” or even closed. The victim then receives a link that looks like the financial institution’s login screen, encouraging them to login with their username and password to reactivate their account. In reality, this bogus screen allows the criminal to collect the victim’s personal banking information – and use it for nefarious purposes.

Friend Needs Help

This scam is a new twist on an old trick. Here, fraudsters claim a relative or friend is stuck in a foreign country and can only get home if one immediately wires funds to a random bank account. According to the fraudster, without those funds, the person will be quarantined (or incarcerated) until the pandemic clears.

Phony Investment Opportunities

Watch for bogus online promotions, including those on social media, claiming that the products or services of a publicly-traded company can prevent, detect, or cure Coronavirus. The ploy is for you to “invest” in these companies, and the stock will dramatically increase in value as a result. The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) says to use extreme caution with any offer. Other investor alerts may claim a company’s products or services can stop the Coronavirus outbreak. This is false.

These faulty claims are also rampant on social media sites. Be wary and don’t click on suspicious links.

Also be on the alert for bogus companies soliciting victims for investments based on the fact “they are working to find a virus cure and are just waiting on FDA approval.” These companies may call, using an official-sounding script that can be extremely persuasive. The pitch offers an individual the chance to get in early and invest with these companies. In reality, the companies are probably crafting a Ponzi-like scheme, perpetrating fraud.

Read more about these Coronavirus-related concerns on the SEC website.

Miracle Cures

Tricksters are capitalizing on people’s desires to stay healthy with scams that claim to have a treatment for COVID-19. They may also try to sell protective equipment such as masks, face shields, gloves, sanitizing solutions, etc. Remember, there is no cure. And most of the sites “selling gear” are not legitimate or are price gouging.

Note: there is no cure or treatment for COVID-19. And the availability of equipment is usually a hoax, and most likely, you will lose your money.

The FDA also warns about online offers for vaccinations and home test kits. Here, scammers encourage you to buy either online or in stores products that aren’t proven to treat or prevent COVID-19. At this time, there are no FDA-authorized home test kits for COVID-19, and there is no cure or product that will prevent you from getting the Coronavirus.

Visit the FDA to learn more.

Additionally, the FTC and FDA have jointly issued warning letters to sellers of unapproved and misbranded products, claiming to treat or prevent the Coronavirus. The products include teas, essential oils, and colloidal silver. There is no evidence to back their claims. The FDA also reiterates that there are no approved vaccines, drugs, or investigational products currently available to treat or prevent the virus.

The best way to protect yourself is by taking commonsense precautions, including frequent hand-washing and social distancing. Read more on the FTC website.

Shop Smart

Be wary of companies claiming to have scarce products in stock (sanitizer, cleansers, etc.). Be careful of price gouging as well. Opportunists abound!

Resources & Links

The key is to arm yourself with information and be prepared to slay the fraudsters with knowledge.

And we’re here to ensure you won’t be taken advantage of by those with bad intentions. If you suspect you’ve been a victim of identity theft, contact us right away. Also, visit the Consumer financial Protection Bureau website for instructions on how to respond to fraud.

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