Face it, we’re stuck at home, fearful of how the coronavirus pandemic could take away our loved ones, and ever so eager to latch onto quick solutions.
Think of the situation like an unlocked car with a tank full of gas and the keys left in the ignition. What crook wouldn’t be tempted?
Best bet: Lock your car, take your keys and ignore the next ad or offer you spot via social media sites, text or email for some sort of COVID-19 testing kit or treatment. The same’s true for any email you get relating to some so-called essential step necessary to receive a stimulus check.
We’re already hearing reports that scammers are demanding your bank account information so that you can get a stimulus check directly deposited into your account. Don’t do it.
Phishing, texts and impersonation scams are a constant threat. As states issue or extend “stay home” directives, scammers can take advantage of a unique opportunity where millions of people will have even less contact with friends, family and religious communities.
Don’t let scammers take advantage of loneliness
We won’t be around someone who might alert us to the newest scam warnings.
While we’re home, we won’t be any safer from the scammers.
“From a scam and fraud perspective, I’m worried about people isolating,” said Pi-Ju (Marian) Liu, assistant professor of nursing at the Center on Aging and the Life Course at Purdue University.
Liu, who has done research on financial exploitation, expects more problems ahead as everyone from retirees to college students spends more time online during “stay in place” directives.
Social-distancing is essential to help combat the virus, but it does open doors for online scams, telemarketing ploys and phony emails. If you’re lonely, for example, you might be more willing to engage with someone who pretends to be an official source trying to help you navigate how to apply for a stimulus check or avoid getting seriously sick.
Many times, Liu said, scammers will try to play into our deepest fears or our needs to show a sense of compassion.
Older adults, she said, are often targeted, not necessarily because they’re more vulnerable to the threats of a con artist but often because they have money in the bank that they can use to fix a problem.
“Sometimes,” she said, “there’s a lot of misinformation going around.”
Don’t let fear get a free ride
Over the weekend, a relative shared a fearful warning via email: “Looks like this virus thrives on ibuprofen so don’t do it and tell everyone you can!!!”
Many people, of course, don’t take ibuprofen if they’re on other medications, such as blood thinners. The alarm bells ringing on social media, though, made it sound like Advil is the reason people are dying.
I found a post by the Harvard Medical School Coronavirus Rescource Center that noted that we’re seeing some rapid changes in health recommendations that are creating uncertainty.
Right now, there has been no scientific testing or evidence to back up some theories that “nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, could worsen coronavirus disease,” according to Medscape Medical News.
At one point, it was suggested that it may be best to avoid Motrin, Advil, and generic versions to treat symptoms of COVID-19. The Harvard site noted that World Health Organization initially recommended using acetaminophen, or medications such as Tylenol, instead of ibuprofen, to help reduce fever and aches and pains related to the coronavirus infection. But WHO now states that either acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be used.
Yet with such emails flooding our mailboxes, well, you could see why some people might be getting ready to hoard Tylenol along with the toilet paper. We’ve seen scammers pitching fake masks, phony government grants, and now they’re claiming that they can sell you a COVID-19 test kit.
No, there isn’t a ‘mandatory online’ coronavirus test
Phony text messages are being sent to consumers impersonating the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“The message tells you that you must take a ‘mandatory online COVID-19 test’ and has a link to a website,” according to the Better Business Bureau.
Yet, there is no such thing as an online test for the coronavirus.
The scammers seem to be targeting retirees, too, as they pitch these fake tests for the coronavirus to Medicare recipients.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General is warning that scammers are demanding your Medicare number or other personal information in exchange for COVID-19 tests.
“However, the services are unapproved and illegitimate,” the inspector general warns.
“Fraudsters are targeting beneficiaries in a number of ways, including telemarketing calls, social media platforms, and door-to-door visits,” according to the alert.
You might be pitched a “senior care package” that never arrives after you’ve handed over credit card information or other identification.
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Some scams may even falsely claim that President Donald Trump has ordered that seniors get tested.
The scammers later use the information you give them to commit medical identity theft, file phony tax returns to generate refunds, or take out loans that they have no intention of ever paying back.
Consumer watchdogs, including the BBB and the Michigan Attorney General, also are warning that scammers are trying to get you to hand over bank account information as a so-called requirement to receive your stimulus check.
If you click on these links that come with some texts and emails, you could end up downloading malware onto your computer that will put you at greater risk for identity theft.
Remember, government agencies are not typically going to send you a text message to sign up for any coronavirus test or stimulus check.
Scammers know how to create fake look-alike sites.
You also don’t want to hit “stop” or “no” to prevent future texts, the BBB warns, as this is a common ploy by scammers to confirm that they have a real, active phone number.
For more tips regarding COVID-19, you can see BBB.org/Coronavirus or see BBB.org/Covid. You can report scams to BBB.org/ScamTracker. Or go to the Federal Trade Commission site at www.ftc.gov to report rip-offs and imposter scams.
Follow Detroit Free Press reporter Susan Tompor on Twitter: @tompor.