March 30, 2020

Beware of COVID-19 Scams

During times like these, it’s especially important to think carefully about whether you are dealing with a legitimate business, website, or government representative online or over the phone. Scammers and information thieves are always looking for new ways to trick people out of money or valuable identity info. Scammers have set up fake websites, bogus funding collections, phishing emails, fake COVID-19 tests, and more in an effort to trick the fearful and unsuspecting out of their money.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is warning against a surge in coronavirus scams, which are being executed with surprising sophistication, so they may be difficult for even the keenest of eyes to spot.

The best weapons against these scams are awareness and education. When people know about circulating scams and how to identify them, they’re already several steps ahead of the scammers.

Bogus Donation Links

In this scam, victims receive bogus emails, text messages or social media posts asking them to donate money to a research team that is supposedly on the verge of developing a drug to treat COVID-19. Others claim they are nearing a vaccine for immunizing the population against the virus. There have also been ads circulating on the internet with similar requests. Unfortunately, nearly all of these are fakes, and any money donated to these “funds” will help line the scammers’ pockets.

If you want to actually help with the fight against COVID-19, one great place to start is the Tulsa Area Response Fund. The Tulsa Area United Way and the Tulsa Community Foundation have partnered to create a fund that will help to aid local people and businesses during this difficult time. Learn more or donate here.

Posing as a Health Agency

There is so much conflicting information on the coronavirus, and scammers are exploiting the confusion. Scammers are sending out alerts appearing to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the WHO. These emails may even have official-looking logos or seals of real agencies, and some even announce that they have special information about infections in your area or new ways to prevent getting the virus. If you receive an email promising special info or asking you to download a file or fill out a form before providing you that information, you should be very skeptical and not click any links provided.

Clicking links or responding to these emails with your own identifying info makes you an instant target for scammers, so it’s usually best to trust your gut and seek out your own information from sources that you know are reliable.

Fake Purchase Orders

If you thought you were safe from scammers at work, think again. Scammers are hacking the computer systems at medical treatment centers and obtaining information about outstanding orders for face masks and other supplies. The scammers then send the buyer a phony purchase order listing the requested supplies and asking for payment. The employee at the treatment center wires payment directly into the scammer’s account. Unfortunately, they’ll have to pay the bill again when contacted by the legitimate supplier.

Selling Fake COVID-19 Tests

Attorney General Mike Hunter issued a consumer alert shortly after community spread had been identified in Oklahoma. Reports of fake at-home COVID-19 tests being sold reached Hunter’s office. He warned Oklahomans to be on guard against people attempting to sell “home-testing kits” for the virus. No health care providers or licensed individual will call and offer to test people at random. Never purchase such tests, and be sure to report anyone selling them to local law enforcement.

Preventing scams

Basic preventative measures can keep scammers from making you their next target.

As always, it’s important to keep the anti-malware and antivirus software on your computer up to date, and to strengthen the security settings on all of your devices.

Practice responsible browsing when online. Never download an attachment from an unknown source or click on links embedded in an email or social media post from an unknown individual. Don’t share sensitive information online, either. If you’re unsure about a website’s authenticity, check the URL and look for a padlock icon and the “s” after the “http” indicating the site is secure.

Finally, it’s a good idea to stay updated on the latest news about the coronavirus to avoid falling prey to misinformation. Check the actual CDC and WHO websites for the latest updates. You can donate funds toward research on these sites as well.

How Scammers Get Paid

Scammers give themselves away when they ask for payment via specific means, including a wire transfer or prepaid gift card. Scams are also easily spotted by claims of urgency, such as “Act now!” Another giveaway is poor writing skills, including grammatical errors, awkward syntax, and misspelled words. In the coronavirus scams, “Breaking information” alerts appearing to be from health agencies are another sign of a scam.

You can help protect yourself safe from COVID-19 by practicing good hygiene habits, but remember that avoiding coronavirus scams could be just as important when it comes to protecting your money. Always think before you click.

This article is for educational purposes only. Tulsa FCU makes no representations as to the accuracy, completeness, or specific suitability of any information presented. Information provided should not be relied on or interpreted as legal, tax or financial advice. Nor does the information directly relate to our products and/or services terms and conditions.