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5 common COVID scams and how to protect yourself

grandmother and granddaughter using device
August 10, 2020

By Pam Leibfried

Scammers are busy these days trying to take advantage of people’s state of worry and stress about the COVID-19 pandemic. Below are short summaries of some of the most common scams that are happening right now related to COVID.

1. Social Security and Medicare COVID scams

Many elderly people are receiving scam calls claiming to be about changes to their Social Security and Medicare benefits. Don’t give these callers any information over the phone, especially your Social Security number or credit/debit card number. The Social Security Administration (SSA) isn’t reducing anyone’s benefits because of COVID. They’re also not calling people to discuss benefits changes. Neither is Medicare.

If you’re not sure if an insurance claim call is legit—maybe you had a recent medical procedure or are waiting on approval for one and the call could be about an actual insurance issue—the best course of action is to tell the person you’re talking to that you’re going to call them back to make sure the issue is legit and not a scam. If they try to give you a phone number to call, don’t use it because it could be a fake number. Often, once the scammer realizes you’re not going to be a victim, they’ll hang up on you, at which point you know for sure it was a scam. If they stay on the line and try to pressure you to “confirm your identity” or give them information, you should hang up. Then call the insurance company, using the number on the back of your insurance card. That way, you’ll know you’re talking to your actual insurer.

If you receive something in the mail or via text message referencing your Social Security or Medicare benefits, follow the same procedure to confirm the legitimacy. Call the number on the back of your Medicare or insurance card or your local SSA office. They can confirm if the mailing is legit or a scam.

And if you’re not yet of Social Security or Medicare age, make sure to you let your parents or grandparents know about these scams so they don’t fall victim.

2. Health-related coronavirus scams

As much as we all wish there were an effective vaccine for COVID-19, there still isn’t. There also isn’t a cure at this time. There are, however, a lot of scammers claiming that they can get you a cure or put you at the front of the line for a vaccination—for a fee, of course! Scammers are also selling test kits, treatments, N-95 masks, surgical gowns, gloves, supplements and air filtration systems.

The Federal Trade Commission summed it up nicely in a recent scam alert: “There is no vaccine for this virus, and there is no cure. If you receive a phone call, email, text message, or letter with claims to sell you any of these items – it’s a scam.” Don’t give any personal or financial information to these people. Just hang up the phone or shred the mailing. If you need to be tested for COVID, call your doctor.

3. Coronavirus charity scams

Many people need help because they lost their job due to the pandemic or because a family member is sick. Scammers are capitalizing on our generosity and desire to help people in need by calling to solicit donations to coronavirus charities. Because it’s nearly impossible to know if a charity call is legit or not, you’re better off to hang up and donate in another way. If the donation solicitation was received as an email or text, do NOT click on a link in that message.

Instead, go to the website of a reputable charity that you know is legitimate and donate online or call them to donate. This way, you can know that your money is going to the actual charity you want to support, and not into a scammer’s wallet.

4. Coronavirus family scams

I’ve written in the past about a “granny scam” call that my mom received, and these types of scams are rampant right now. A caller says they’re your grandchild or niece or nephew or friend who is sick and needs money sent to them. They use their supposed illness as the reason their voice is different. Or they claim that they traveled somewhere and can’t get back because of a COVID-related flight or bus cancellation. Often, these scams ask you to wire money, give your credit card number, or buy gift cards and call back with the card numbers. And because it’s an “emergency” situation, they ask you to do it right away.

Instead of doing what they say, do what my mom did when the granny scammers called her. Hang up and call your grandchild or friend. It’s likely that they’ll answer the phone and have no idea what you’re talking about. Or call their parent or sibling or a mutual friend to see if they know if there really is a crisis. Don’t ever send money unless you know for sure who you are really talking to.

5. Unemployment filing scams

Americans whose personal identity was compromised in the past may find themselves victims of unemployment scams. That’s when someone who has your personal information files for unemployment compensation in your name. You usually find out that someone has filed in your name when you get a letter from your state’s unemployment bureau following up on your claim. By that time, money has likely already been sent to the scammers.

If you find yourself in this situation, it means your identity has already been compromised to some extent. There really isn’t anything that you can do to avoid this particular scam, but once you’re aware of it, you need to immediately inform you local unemployment agency that you are not unemployed and did not make the claim. They will let you know what else you need to do in terms of reporting or filing a police report. You’ll likely be asked to alert your employer that a false claim was made on your behalf, as they may be contacted to confirm your employment status. 

Because you now know that your identity has been compromised, it is critically important that you take further steps to protect yourself from fraud. Change your passwords, be careful about protecting your information online, set up a fraud alert and credit freeze and take other identity protection steps outlined on the Federal Trade Commission’s identity theft website.

 

Keep checking back with the Money Mentor, where we’ll do our best to keep you up to date on the latest COVID scams and how to protect yourself. Now that you’re aware of these types of fraud, make sure to spread the word to your parents, grandparents, children and friends so they know what to look out for too.


Pam Leibfried is a marketing content specialist whose love of words led to a writing and editing career. After a brief stint teaching English, she transitioned to corporate communications and spent 20 years at The Nielsen Company before joining Alliant’s content development team. Early in her work life, Pam’s friend Matt explained the benefits of a 401(k) and her dad encouraged her to start a Roth IRA. Their good counsel prompted her to prioritize retirement savings, which just might enable her to retire early so she can read more and live out the slogan on her fave T-shirt:  “I have a retirement plan: I plan on quilting.”   

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