The promising development of the COVID-19 vaccine being available to Americans has brought with it some very inauspicious new scams targeting seniors.
Fraudsters are selling “cures,” asking for money for the vaccine and to have one’s name added to a “waiting list,” soliciting donations for charities they claim are gathering funds for families affected by the virus, and luring people to open emails with “official” COVID news that actually unleash malware and spyware. Some even pose as professional cleaners, offering to sanitize homes or businesses.
As the laundry list of schemes continues to grow – from robocalls and investment schemes to pigeon drops and grandparent scams – so does the opportunity to be prepared and informed.
Our research team has identified the most common scams targeting seniors. Before we get into those, check out the two videos our team put together on avoiding COVID-19 scams.
How to Avoid COVID-19 Scams:
New Scams Targeting Seniors
It didn’t take scammers long to begin attempting to capitalize on confusion and fear over coronavirus. Federal, state and local officials across the country have alerted consumers, particularly older people, to be aware of several fraud schemes tied to the virus. Here’s a look at the major schemes that have been identified.
Charity scams are common regardless of what’s happening in the news, but fraudsters follow the headlines, and coronavirus is a prime way for them to claim they’re gathering donations for families that have been affected by the virus or the economic fallout.
What you should do: Research any potential charity, and never give donations through cash or gift cards or by wiring money.
The coronavirus crisis has been – and continues to be – rapidly evolving, and many people are eager to make sure they have the most up-to-date information. But it’s still important to avoid exposing your devices to harm, such as malware and viruses. For instance, an email scam uses the logo of the World Health Organization to lure users into clicking on a button that unleashes malware, and another uses a mimic of the popular Johns Hopkins University coronavirus map to install spyware that can steal passwords, credit card numbers and other data stored within the web browser.
What you should do: Closely analyze any URL that you click on to be sure it’s actually connected to the source; in the case of the fake map, instead of routing to a Johns Hopkins-affiliated site, the fraudsters point to Corona-Virus-Map.com.
A tactic similar to the vaccine scam, many fraudsters call or email posing as professional cleaners or similar service providers, offering to sanitize homes or businesses. While there are businesses that specialize in this service, they are not engaged in randomly calling potential customers out of the blue.
What you should know: Reputable businesses don’t engage in hard sells or pressure tactics, particularly if they claim to want to help during this difficult time.
Though not a scam in the same way that fraudsters use email to target people, many businesses have attempted to sell their existing products as treatments or even cures for COVID-19 or coronavirus. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have issued warnings against at least seven companies that the agencies say have been misbranding products as treatments or preventives against coronavirus. Products include teas, essential oils and colloidal silver.
What you should do: Consult with your loved ones and personal doctor before buying any type of product or medication online to be extra safe.
Have you been a victim of a scam?
If you think you might be a victim of a scam, reach out to someone you trust such as a close friend or family member. Don’t be afraid to talk to someone because doing nothing could make the situation worse.
Unfortunately, once money has been wired out, it is more than likely gone. However, that does not mean that there’s nothing left for you to do. Other senior victims are counting on you to report the details so that the scams can be shut down. The AARP breaks down a handy list of resources that are useful to keep readily available. Additionally, keep the phone numbers for your local police station and bank close by.
By Jeff Hoyt, editor-in-chief at SeniorLiving.org
Jeff Hoyt is editor-in-chief at SeniorLiving.org, a comprehensive directory of living options. SeniorLiving’s mission is to help older Americans age with ease.