As the coronavirus pandemic rages on, scammers are taking full advantage. By closely following the news, they’re tweaking their messaging to be as deceptive and timely as possible to ensure even more victims.
Whether they’re tricking people into signing away their stimulus payments or threatening to infect families with COVID-19, the scams continue to get more creative as people get more desperate. Tap or click here to see some of the previous scams to watch out for.
And now, three new types of coronavirus scams have been discovered that are even wilder than previous ones. We have to admire the effort the scammers are putting in, but that doesn’t mean we’re letting them off the hook. Here’s how you can spot the scams so you can protect yourself and your wallet.
Catfishing makes a COVID-19 comeback
Catfishing is a familiar trick that anyone with a Facebook account or a dating profile can tell you about. In simplest terms, the scammer steals pictures from someone else online and impersonates them for personal gain. And on social media platforms, the scam has grown to epidemic proportions. Tap or click here to see how to spot catfishers.
The FBI reports that more than 19,470 people fell victim to confidence fraud and romance cybercrimes, with losses totaling around $475 million in 2019. This year, catfishing continues to rise, but the scammers are imparting a unique COVID-19 flavor to their tricks.
In one variation reported by NBC News, scammers stole photos from a registered nurse and impersonated her on Facebook to run a fake fundraiser. Because people believed the scammer to be a legitimate nurse, they were able to rake in a sizeable amount of cash before the real nurse found the account and reported it.
Unfortunately, it took more than 400 reports for Facebook to even act on the account. And even then, the victim claims to get messages from strangers who allegedly interacted with her on dating sites as well. What a headache!
To stay safe from catfishers, use skepticism when dealing with anyone you don’t know online. Impromptu fundraisers and donation drives are a big red flag, and those looking to contribute to COVID-19 relief should look into the charity closely before spending any money. If the drive asks for gift cards or bank wires, avoid it at all costs.
If someone happens to impersonate you in a catfishing scam, report the page as soon as possible, and do so multiple times until the page is removed. In addition, you’ll want to set your social media accounts to private and potentially create a Google Alert for your name so you know if somebody is searching for it or using it without permission.
Tap or click here and scroll down to see how you can set a Google Alert. Just substitute coronavirus with your name.
Not the puppies!
You have to be pretty heartless to trick people with pictures of puppies and kittens, but that’s exactly what scammers are doing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Global lockdowns have caused a surge in demand for companion animals, and puppies are among the main extortion tools that scammers are employing right now.
Investigators with Buzzfeed News explored a website claiming to sell King Charles Spaniel puppies that had been reported to the Better Business Bureau for deceptive advertising. One family had actually paid $750 for a new puppy, only to be told that “shipping issues” demanded the dog be sent in a “thermal crate” costing an additional $1,500.
The victim refused to pay the additional charge, and the site-owner cut off all contact. They have not refunded the money, and attempts by reporters to discuss the “thermal crate” talking point only resulted in the site-owner hanging up. Shady, indeed.
When buying any kind of non-retail goods online, clear communication is the best way to prevent getting scammed. Demand multiple pictures (and potentially even videos) from the seller, and only use payment services like PayPal to exchange money.
PayPal, for example, offers dispute tools that can help you open a refund case in the event you get scammed. If the seller isn’t comfortable with you paying in a way that protects you, avoid them at all costs. Tap or click here to see the safest ways to pay online.
These messages are not from your bank!
Money is the root of all these COVID-19 scams, so it’s natural that America’s con artists would take to impersonating banks to try and squeeze even more money out of their victims.
In a new variation on classic loan scams, these hustlers pretend to be your bank or loan servicer offering you new financing options with extremely low-interest rates. Some even claim that you can get a mortgage interest rate of 0%, which is quite literally impossible. But if the victim doesn’t know, that only benefits the scammer, doesn’t it?
To protect yourself from bank scams, make sure you ignore any unusual text messages or emails that claim to come from your bank no matter what they say. If it seems realistic enough but you aren’t 100% sure, go to your bank’s website, grab its phone number, and give them a call for yourself to verify its legitimacy.
Otherwise, you may be signing away extremely sensitive information like your home loan without realizing it. And we think everyone can agree this is absolutely one of the worst times in history to make that kind of mistake.
Other scams to watch out for
These three new scams aren’t the only ones being deployed by con artists today. Here are some of the other COVID-19 scams you need to be aware of:
- Stimulus check fraud: Scammers pretend to be the government or your bank and tell you your identity must be verified before you can receive your stimulus check. Many people have fallen for this deceptive scam and lost thousands of dollars because they gave the scammers personally-identifying information. Tap or click here to see how you can spot stimulus fraud.
- Fake protective gear and COVID-19 treatments: People looking for medicines and gear to treat COVID-19 are running into phishing websites that will steal personal data. Oh, and to make matters worse, the treatments are fake and the gear never arrives. Tap or click here to see what scammers are trying to sell people on.
- Bioterrorism scam: This one is ludicrous, but people are actually falling for it. This variation of the classic sextortion scam involves a “hacker” threatening to infect your whole family with COVID-19 unless you cough up bitcoin. Fortunately, it’s nothing more than lies and bluster. Tap or click here to see why you have nothing to fear from this scam.
Scammers will undoubtedly move to even more creative schemes in the coming months. But as long as you stay on your toes and know the signs to look out for, you won’t fall for any of their tricks. If you can’t be fooled, they’re no threat to you whatsoever.