I am sorry to say that the COVID crisis has ushered in a golden age for scammers. Not only are they using robocalls to defraud people, they are texting as well.
According to Transaction Network Services (TNS), “nearly 5,000 coronavirus-related scams were reported to the FTC through May 18 – costing Americans more than $35 million in losses to these frauds.”
COVID scams rely upon the headlines to swindle people. The themes revolve around medical equipment shortage (masks), vaccines (not available yet) and government stimulus checks.
The scams themselves are deceptively simple: They want to steal your money or personal information by selling you things they won’t deliver. Here’s a sampling of the top scams, according to TNS:
- Contact Tracing Scams: With states putting contact tracing initiatives into high gear, scammers are feasting on consumer fears by posing as public health workers via robocalls and robotexts to trick people into giving up personal information and money.
- Stimulus Checks: A new and sophisticated COVID-19 robotext scam lures smartphone users to a realistic-looking IRS web page where they are prompted to answer personal information to receive their stimulus check. Once the victim enters all their information, they are then redirected to the real IRS website to make the scam look less suspicious.
- Fake Cures: Scammers have wasted no time peddling questionable products that claim to help diagnose, treat, cure and even prevent COVID-19 – the majority of which have not been properly evaluated by the FDA for safety and effectiveness and may pose a significant health risk to consumers.
- Test Kits, Masks & PPE: COVID-19 scams work because the products Americans want the most (test kits, masks, gloves) are in short supply and there is a lack of pricing clarity on what these items should cost. TNS’ own analysis tracked a 3M MMM +0.5% scam circulating with tens of thousands of calls – primarily to Los Angeles phone numbers – offering a coronavirus safety and medical kit.
- Scams Targeting Seniors: TNS’ 2020 survey found that 89% of seniors receive at least one robocall per week, while more than half (56%) receive at least seven robocalls per week. Despite the fact that 45% of seniors received a healthcare-related scam call, only 21% reported that they received information from their healthcare provider on robocall scams – problematic as older Americans are vulnerable to COVID-19 health scams.
- Student Loan Forgiveness: Scammers are targeting college students with scams promising student loan forgiveness given all of the college school year disruption.
- Health Insurance: Americans are reporting harassing calls from someone attempting to sell them health insurance while phishing for their personal information. Scammers are also making robocalls claiming to be from a hospital in order to try to sell insurance.
- Nursing School: As unemployment rises, scammers have been making the rounds claiming to offer a program for aspiring nurses, directing victims to a website offering “courses” for a fee to become a registered nurse.
- Political Primary Delays: TNS tracked massive increases in robocall volume (200-600%) leading up to Democratic state primaries the past few months, suggesting robocallers are using voter confusion around primary date postponements due to coronavirus as an opportunity. In one robocall scam, a San Antonio-based number made over 75,000 calls during a condensed period of time leading up to the Texas primary.
- Impacted Industry Scams: Crowdsourced feedback on scams purporting to offer free or discounted cruises and hotel accommodations lead consumers to believe that struggling industries like these are trying to woo customers back with aggressive promotions.
There are other scams, of course. The best way to avoid them is to not respond to them and block them from your phone through spam filters.