COVID-19 doesn’t just mess with your body. It may invade your wallet as well.
In the 105 days between January 1 and April 15, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Bureau of Consumer Protection’s toted up more than 18,000 reports of COVID-19 scams costing Americans more than $13,000,000 for fake cures, “secret” info about the virus and heart-rending requests for donations to non-existent charities.
Given the international nature of the pandemic, the problem isn’t limited to the United States. CheckPoint, a multinational IT (information technology) security firm, has identified a whole universe of malicious websites with products such as “'the best and fastest test for Coronavirus detection at the fantastic price of 19,000 Russian rubles (about US$300)” that, once accessed, infect a computer.
In March, Italy was flooded with emails headed coronavirus: informazioni importanti su precauzioni (Coronavirus: Important information about precautions) attributed to a fake expert, “Penelope Marchetti with WHO or Organizzazione Mondiale della Sanità (OMS).” Clicking on that one also allowed malware into the computer.
Targeting Medicare Recipients
As you might expect, in America the states with the most people are where the most scams show up. On the FTC website, by mid-April California clocked in first with 2,399 complaints, Florida was second with 1476, and New York, third with 1,300. By comparison, Alaska had 19, Wyoming 25 and Montana 37.
Medicare recipients are an especially rich target and not just in New York. As former New Jersey State Assemblywoman Amy Handlin has written, the MetLife Mature Market Institute and the nonprofit Investor Protection Trust estimate that one out of every five Americans over 65 is a victim caught by calls that sound like one FTC has posted to its website: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2019/03/protect-yourself-against-medicare-scams
Along with the virus itself, the introduction of “stimulus” checks is another rich field of profit for scammers. For example, if a paper check arrives before about mid-May or you get a check when you’re expecting a direct deposit, it’s a fake. No, the IRS will not send you a gift card, money transfer or, alas, more than you deserve and the ask you to cough up the “overage.” And friendly as the tax people may be, they are definitely not going to call, text, email or send a postcard with a super secret password you can use on a super special phone number or website to verify your bank account
What to do if someone targets you? The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) says, ignore it. No personal information by phone, email or text. No cash payment in advance for some “COVD kit” or remedy. No clicking on links that look like they come from a friend but really don’t. And never ever hit that tempting Unsubscribe button. Doing that tells the scammer your email is address is real, which means more spam. Worse yet, it might link to a website that downloads malware onto your device.
Once upon a time, back in the good old mid-20th century days, comedian Jack Benny, who made being a tightwad the center of his professional personality, would do a bit in which he was confronted by a thug demanding, "Your money or your life!" Benny would pause for a loooong moment of silence and then reply: "I'm thinking it over!"
That’s still very good advice.
Carol Ann Rinzler is the author of more than 20 books on health including Nutrition for Dummies