In these days of shutdowns and quarantines related to the spread of coronavirus, many of us face social isolation and financial insecurity on an unprecedented level. While our hearts may be warmed by local schools’ efforts to get meals to kids who need them and neighbors who are willing to barter a cup of sugar for a roll of toilet paper, we’re still feeling alone and scared.
It’s hard to believe anyone is benefiting from the situation, but there is one group trying to reap rewards from the collective pain—scammers. People in the most challenging situations, those of us who live paycheck to paycheck, are in fact the most likely to be victims of scams, according to the Better Business Bureau. And scammers know it all too well. They target the most vulnerable people among us, people with lower incomes and fewer financial plans and resources.
So it’s no surprise that scammers are having a field day right now, when so many of us face job losses. The time is ripe. Old scams are escalating, and new ones are popping up every day.
The good news is that we don’t have to fall for it, any of it. We just have to be aware of what’s out there. Studies show that having prior knowledge of scams and frauds is the key to reducing our susceptibility. Put simply, that means we can protect ourselves and each other by staring these scams in the face and saying no.
While we can’t cover every possible scam in this space, it’s worth taking a look at some of the more popular scams circulating at the moment.
For millions of people, the only way to get or keep a job right now is to work from home, and there are plenty of legitimate ways to do so. Unfortunately, for every legitimate work-from-home job listed on employment websites, there may be as many as seventy that are literally too good to be true. The problem isn’t new—from 2015 to 2019, the Federal Trade Commission received more than fifty-eight thousand consumer complaints about sham opportunities to work from home or launch a business—but it’s likely to grow in the current climate. And according to the BBB’s Scam Tracker, the median loss for victims is about $1200. Nobody can afford to lose that amount of money right now.
At a time when many of us are concerned about our access to medical services, scammers have inevitably begun selling fake test kits, fake cures, and unproven treatments. The FTC has recently charged seven companies for offering false “cures,” including teas, essential oils, and colloidal silver. The truth? The FDA says there are currently no approved vaccines, drugs, or investigational products available to treat the coronavirus.
On top of the usual array of pyramid schemes and sketchy investment offers, scammers are also now posing as representatives of companies doing research into vaccines or cures. No legitimate company would approach individuals to fund this kind of research. If you receive an email promoting research reports that predict promising “target prices,” it’s a scam.
Fake online stores may appear in your social media feeds or your inbox, offering “amazing” deals on hard-to-find items such as hand sanitizer and medical masks, but all you will actually get for your “act now” payment is radio silence from that moment on. No supplies will be sent to you in return for your hard-earned cash.
When you’re laid off or your business is forced to close, you have one overwhelming, immediate need: cash. There are plenty of people out there who will try to convince you they can get you that cash quick. They may solicit a service or product from you, and a few days later, a cashier’s check will be delivered to you. It looks legitimate, but the “customer” has overpaid. No problem, they say. Just deposit the check and wire them the difference. The problem, of course, is that the check is counterfeit. You may be able to deposit it, but sooner or later, the bank will figure out it’s fraudulent—long after you’ve wired the “extra” to the scammer, leaving you on the hook.
So how do you protect yourself against these frauds? With solid information from reputable sources. Here are some reliable websites:
The scammers may never give up, but you can protect yourself and your financial situation by staying aware of these scams through trustworthy sources such as these.
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