Better Business Bureau warns of pandemic scams

  • The Hartwell Sun
    The Hartwell Sun
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A global pandemic created a “perfect storm” for scammers when people are at their most vulnerable, according to the Better Business Bureau, but there are ways to avoid being duped.

The bureau reports that while social distancing may be a good health practice right now with the COVID-19 crisis, it could also be helping scammers. People are more likely to lose money to a scam when they are socially or physically isolated from others, if they are actively engaging online and if they are financially vulnerable, according to research presented by the bureau, the FINRA Investor Education Foundation and the Stanford Center on Longevity.

With unprecedented unemployment levels, people are looking to find new or temporary jobs on the Internet, according to the BBB, and are more susceptible to employment scams, which were deemed the riskiest scams of 2019, making up 9.3 percent of all scams reported and a median dollar loss of $1,500.

Scams relating to the coronavirus have already been reported throughout the state. One recent scam involved residents receiving text messages appearing to be from the federal government that said you must take a “mandatory online COVID-19 test” with a link attached, according to the BBB. However, there is no online test for COVID-19. Numerous other text message scams have been reported, such as requesting users to fill out an online application to receive their stimulus check. 

While Hart County Sheriff Mike Cleveland said he hasn’t seen any coronavirus related scams recently, he did say two people were recently arrested for going through multiple mailboxes in an alleged attempt to steal anything they could, including stimulus checks.

Leading state and federal prosecutors recently announced the formation of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Fraud Task Force, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Georgia.

“To all would-be scammers: Anyone who uses this pandemic to defraud Georgians will be investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia Charlie Peeler said. “The creation of this unified task force better prepares us to investigate and prosecute criminal acts of fraud related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The law enforcement community is strong in our state. I want to thank our partners at the local, state and federal level dedicated to protecting our citizens from fraudsters.”

To avoid being duped by scammers, you should always research the company or person before clicking on any links or sharing any personal information online, according to the BBB. People should also be aware of job offers that sound too good to be true. The Federal Trade Commission is fighting against scams nationwide and recommends hanging up on robocalls; ignoring offers for vaccines or home test kits; don’t respond to texts and emails about checks from the government; doing your homework before donating to a charity or organization and not clicking on links from sources you don’t know.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Georgia is urging the public to be on the lookout for any of these COVID-19 scams, which can be reported to the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) hotline (1-866-720-5721) or to the NCDF e-mail address disaster@leo.gov:

Treatment scams: Scammers are selling fake vaccines, medicines, and cures for COVID-19. 

Supply scams: Scammers are claiming they have in-demand products, like cleaning and household supplies, and medical supplies, but when an order is placed, the scammer takes the money and never delivers the order. 

Charity scams: Scammers are fraudulently soliciting donations for non-existent charities to help people affected by the COVID-19 crisis. Scammers often use names that are similar to the names of real charities. 

Phishing scams: Scammers, posing as national and global health authorities, such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), are sending fake emails and texts to trick the recipient into sharing personal information like account numbers, Social Security numbers, and login IDs and passwords. 

App scams: Scammers are creating COVID-19 related apps that contain malware designed to steal the user’s personal information. 

Provider scams: Scammers pretending to be doctors and hospitals demand payment for COVID-19 treatment allegedly provided to a friend or family member of the victim. 

Investment scams: To promote the sale of stock in certain companies—particularly small companies, about which there is little publicly available information—scammers are making false and misleading claims that those companies can prevent, detect or cure COVID-19.