Commentary / Coronavirus / Safety & Health

Scammers Are Out – Raise Your Guard

scammersChecks from the IRS arrive this week, unemployment insurance in about two weeks, and promises of more relief for seniors lies ahead. But do not think scammers are unaware. Scams are replicating faster than the coronavirus. So, here’s the context and what to watch for.

As of late-March, the Secret Service, FBI and FTC began warning Americans to be on higher guard for scams targeting personal information and money.  Since then, they have raised the ante, warning Americans – especially seniors:  Trickery is getting sophisticated.  See: https://www.fbi.gov/coronavirus.

As society works to keep perspective – balancing constitutional rights against public safety, government intrusion versus individual liberty, information push with public calm, fear with resolution – criminals are working overtime.  As the virus targets physical vulnerabilities, criminals target the unwary and overly trusting.

Here is the state of play:  Fear tied to COVID-19 has people concerned over health and finances.  We all track progress on both fronts – retreat of the virus and restarting of the economy. Crooks know it.  Scams are getting more creative, convincing and pernicious.

Here are six on the prowl.

Email “phishing” scams.  Steer wide of suspect emails – especially attachments encouraging download of new health, financial, safety, mask-availability, or “how to cope” advice.

Scammers know you are concerned.  They want access to your computer to install malware, ransomware, sift your files for social security, banking, credit card, registration and password information.  You would not invite a stranger into your house; do not invite one onto your computer.  If you have even the slightest doubt, do not click.

Virus vaccinations.  They do not exist – so let’s start there.  Secret Service reports a flush of emails offering false cures, vaccinations, inoculations, and useless remedies for COVID-19.  These are not to be believed.  Experts put a vaccine a year out.  When emails offer what seems magical, remember – magic does not exist. A vaccination will come; it is not here yet.

Health gear scams.  Crooks know you want N-95 masks, disposable gloves, sanitizer, bacteria-killing soap, immunity-boosting vitamins, plus hard-to-get health gear and medicine.  They know you want toilet paper, paper towels, disinfectants, and some edge on the virus.

Before you click or order from a company, check the company. Information push is less reliable than your search. Trusted sources are better than the unknown. Products ordered blindly are often useless, faulty, dangerous or simply never come.

The FBI is also finding “cybercriminals impersonating officials at the Center for Disease Control (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO),” as well as other health authorities.  See: https://www.ic3.gov/media/2020/200320.aspx.

Peddlers of junk get “cease and desist” letters from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), but they may get your money first.  Tricks include vague and inaccurate descriptions, mislabeling, misbranding, and practices like describing a product as US-made when it is not.

Heartstring scams.  A raft of cyber-scams surround pulling heartstrings, especially targeting older Americans who feel responsible, have moral compass or give to charities. Your demographic and online presence tell people about you. Crooks parrot back what you care about.

IRS Payment Scams.  An immediate scam relates to IRS payments. The payments, including to retirees, will come shortly. The IRS issued special anti-scam guidance for seniors, worth reviewing.  https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/irs-issues-warning-about-coronavirus-related-scams-watch-out-for-schemes-tied-to-economic-impact-payments.

Special attention by seniors – is warranted.  Deposits come without action.  In rare cases, if no prior IRS filing exists, a “newly designed secure portal” exists at “IRS.gov.”  Checks may also arrive by mail.  Under no circumstances should anyone give direct deposit or banking information” to other than the IRS “secure portal” – and most will not need to go there.

IRS “reminds retirees who don’t normally have a requirement to file a tax return that no action on their part is needed to receive their $1,200 economic impact payment,” and “seniors should be especially careful during this period.”

IRS “reminds retirees – including recipients of Forms SSA-1099 and RRB-1099 − that no one from the agency will be reaching out to them by phone, email, mail or in person asking for any kind of information to complete their economic impact payment,” rebate or stimulus payment.  If you get a call, it is not the IRS.

How can you be sure the IRS knows you exist?  Most of the time we do not ask, but here it is worth asking.  Because the IRS “is sending these $1,200 payments automatically to retirees” based on past IRS information, which means “no additional action or information is needed.”

What else?  Be wary of anyone using terms like “stimulus check” or “stimulus payment,” since the official term is “economic impact payment.”   Seniors are warned against anyone asking for them to “sign over their economic impact payment check,” use an expediting service, reaching to them “by phone, email, text or social media,” or seeking “verification of personal and/or banking information” to “speed up” payment.   Beware “bogus checks,” requiring information to cash.

Tax Fraud and Identity Theft.   Secret Service warns: “Coronavirus is a prime opportunity for enterprising criminals because it plays on one of the basic human conditions — fear.”  The result has been identity-theft scams.  FTC warns appeals that seem “too urgent,” or have misspelled words. See: https://www.secretservice.gov/data/press/releases/2020/20-APR/Secret-Service-Press-Release-Tax-Scam-Identity-Theft.pdf

For protection beyond not opening suspicious emails, officials suggest ideas for avoiding tricksters.  Does that website have “HTTPS” notation?  If not, it may not be an “established URL domain descriptor.”  Do you see a subdomain, like brand followed by “store.com” – rather than brand and .com?  Is there a merchant review?  Does the website’s domain in a browser pop a “certificate error?”  These are all signals.

Bottom line:  Scammers multiply when society is awash in fear, worry, volatility and uncertainty. They rush to capitalize on what we do not know and want to know, do not have and want to have, expect and are unclear about.

In the end, trust what you know and suspect the rest.  If something sounds too good, urgent, targeted, cheap, fast, or preys on emotion – walk a circle.  Seniors are ripe for scammers, so think twice – maybe three times – before you click.  Checks are coming, more relief in sight, but scammers are out and about.  Do not let them trick you.

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Deanna Kramer
1 year ago

Thank you for info! Great to know!!

Betty
1 year ago

Thank you for your services!

Dennis Bicking
1 year ago

Thanks, for this fantastic information.

Brenda Terpstra
1 year ago

Warnings much appreciated!

Brian L Stannard
1 year ago

I don’t which is worse – the scam or the scammers who are scamming the scam.

Gram Cracker
1 year ago

Yet another terrific article by Robert Charles! You are a gem and I thank you for the detailed information.

Myron C Leidinger
1 year ago

THANK YOU

Rickety Rick
1 year ago

from what I have heard from an accountant, these checks are actually a tax credit, not a handout, and it will be rectified and asked for return, when filing your 2020 taxes. If so the real scam is initiated by the government and media, again, as usual. Better check what you are getting into people.

Rick
1 year ago
Reply to  Rickety Rick

No, the money is yours. On your 2020 tax return that you’ll do in 2021 you’ll report what you got and what you were supposed to get, and they might net the difference. My mother-in-law lived with us and we claimed her in 2019. She has since moved into a nursing home and has long term care insurance, so we couldn’t claim her this year. Since we haven’t filed yet, I expect to get $2400 for my wife and I and $500 for my MIL. When we do our taxes next year I suspect (and rightfully so) we’ll have to pay back her $500 and we’ll file a return for her so she’ll get the $1200 she should have gotten. That’s the kind of thing you’ll be reporting, but just the regular payment won’t be taxed or have to be paid back. Just because you will report it doesn’t mean it will be taxed. I don’t think I’d use that accountant for my taxes next year, either!

Carla Larson-Tucke
1 year ago

Thanks for your information. Here is another thing. All those pop-up ads on websites, email newsletters. They are Chinese. The Chinese government allows their citizens (for a huge cut and total control) to use the internet to sell inferior goods, manufactured through slave labor, and the profits are mostly confiscated by the Party. Also well over ninety percent of the shops on Amazon are Chinese. I have nothing against the Chinese people per se, but they are being used by the communist government to further the Communist government’s agenda of world domination, and any Chinese millionaires and billionaires are actually party leaders. The Chinese Communist Party is only allowing “regular” people access to the internet under extremely strict regulation, and they are not making the money, the CCP is. How can you tell if a store on Amazon or other web based applications such as Shopify-a Chinese company, which means Americans are making money for the CCP whether or not they know it or want it if they are opening Shopify stores? First clue: word-salad descriptions which aim to place them higher in the search categories and even in non-related ones. So, long strings of words just listed as description is a good clue. Another one is grammar and misspellings or odd words that don’t actually mean what it is intended they mean, like the poorly translated words found in a lot of ads. One of the best ways to tell is also the sizes. And if there are a lot of Asian models, that’s a clue. It’s especially jarring when a word is used out of context to the item. Don’t be fooled by an American Flag on the screen, anyone can get a meme with an American Flag. Again, this is not about not liking the Chinese people. This is about not helping the CCP get rich while oppressing their people for profit. The CCP sends scientists here to “study” but they hold their families hostage so that these scientists can come and steal research which they are later compelled to claim as their own, and even patent, although they had a very small part in the actual scientific discovery. They send “students” here to learn English and spread communist propaganda, and yes, to spy. They set up Confucius Institutes in our universities to “advance cultural studies of traditional Chinese culture” but they are really here to indoctrinate American students with CCP propaganda. The Chinese Communist Party and therefore the Chinese as a nation are not our friends and they don’t care about decency or honor when it comes to dealing with Americans. They are only interested in gaining the upper hand so they can take over.

BTW everyone should know that Smithfield, the pork processing plant that recently shut down in several states is at least 51% Chinese owned, Chinese Billionaire, Wan Long’s ties to Communist-run China, it’s understandable that Americans would wonder if his efforts to shut down American pork producers are more to hurt the American public through food shortages than to be health conscious in an industry not known for concerns about workers’ health; the company is owned by a citizen from a country not known for the rights of its citizens. which means it is owned by the Communist Party (a billionaire fronts for them, but make no mistake that guy only got rich by consent of the Party), and the shut down is about cutting off our meat supply, not protecting us from COVID. There are a whole host of companies that are in that chain: Smithfield brands include Armour, Berlinki, Carando, Cook’s, Curly’s, Eckrich, Farmland, Gwaltney, Healthy Ones, John Morrell, Krakus, Kretschmar, Margherita, Morliny, Nathan’s Famous, Pure Farmland, and Smithfield.

Marilyn
1 year ago

Good information. Thank you.

Martha Priest
1 year ago

We have caller I.D. and if we don’t recognize the phone # or name, we don’t answer the phone. Saves a lot of grief.

Grumpyoldcoot
1 year ago

I received a phonecall last week. The caller was trying to sell me a warranty meant to protect my car from mechanical failure expenses. They knew the make of my car, but not the mileage on the odometer. The warranty insurance was about $3,600, with $100 as a down payment, payable with my credit card. It all sounded very legit, but since our car has relatively low mileage, I told them I didn’t do business over the phone, and I didn’t think I needed any warranty insurance anyway, even though they said they would give me a veteran’s discount..

I managed to waste their time for half an hour, but when I said I didn’t do business over the phone, the line went….”CLICK.” That was the end of it, and it signaled to me that the call must have been bogus. I called my local car dealer, and they said they could provide better insurance, and that the caller probably got my name from the local DMV office website.

What did I learn? If I receive another “cold call,” I’ll hang up the phone if I am too busy to have some “fun” with them. I have no guilt over doing anything I can to preserve my time and my space. If someone I don’t know calls me out-of-the-blue, they will be at my mercy, and I will enjoy playing with them, using an Asian, Russian or Spanish accent. I like the Asian one best because it frustrates the caller. I used it a couple of years ago, accusing the caller of being a child molester. His supervisor called me back, threatening to “turn me in” to the FBI. I told him to go right ahead. Never heard from the creeps again.

John Karkalis
1 year ago
Reply to  Grumpyoldcoot

From one grumpy old coot to another, I have received “important ” info to update my warranty any number of times (I don’t drive, hmm!)
The challenge is trying to determine the native language of the disembodied voice — Indian, Cambodian, Nigerian?
The fun is wasting the fool’s time with inane questions, essentially giving him the finger. I doubt these con artists are interested in a dialogue over epistemology, but as you discovered, it is jolly fun.
My friends admonished me to cut off the conversation immediately.
Yet it is fun!

Brian
1 year ago
Reply to  Grumpyoldcoot

Grumpy, I have been wasting the one heads time for years. I like to try and turn it around on them and get them to buy an old car or something. Well this year was a first for me, I actually got cussed at by a telemarketer. How’s that for a waste of their time?

Brenda Blunt
1 year ago

There should be a way to track these scumbags so that they can be taken out of business permanently!!

Morbious
1 year ago

One of the reasons there is so much of this at all times is that the punishments are so lax as to invite it. These sorts of crimes should result in hard time.

John Karkalis
1 year ago
Reply to  Morbious

Dr Morbious, short of decapitation or castration, the worst punishment for these cyber thugs would be total denial of access to a computer or mobile device.

Phyllis
1 year ago

Thank you for this article.
It’s bad enough to have to be concerned about Covid19, now we have to be concerned about the invasion of Sewer Rats.

Ted Chalgren
1 year ago

Great article. Truly helpful. Thank you.

JMI
1 year ago

JMI. Thanks so much Mr Charles for your most insightful & very helpful & appreciated information. Look forward to your next
article. God bless you!

John Karkalis
1 year ago

Excellent advice. It should be read carefully.
The predators will always be with us, particularly during times of stress and uncertainty.
It’s no secret that these lice target the elderly.
Conventional wisdom holds that Seniors are more trusting, wealthier, and an easier “mark”.
Perhaps, but my experience with Amac members via the letters suggest we are a pretty savvy bunch. Of course, no one is immune from a scam. The only vaccine we have against this behavior is the vaccine of common sense.
Amac members who are cyber savvy have a better idea than I have about how to protect oneself, apart from opening suspicious mails.
I would like to hear from you.
Thanks

Chuck
1 year ago
Reply to  John Karkalis

If your “gut” instinct tells you no, delete, delete, delete.

John Karkalis
1 year ago
Reply to  Chuck

If it doesn’t pass the smell test, avoid, avoid, avoid.
Good advice anytime.
Thanks.

Hdrydr
1 year ago

The author did a fantastic job with this article. Mega KUDO’s to you, Mr. Charles.

RBC
1 year ago
Reply to  Hdrydr

Thank you so much! We are all here to serve, and if what I offered is valuable – well, you made my day! Thanks again!

Paul W
1 year ago

A crisis always brings out the very best in good people, but it also brings out the very worst in vermin.

josephine pooley
1 year ago

Great information! Thank you AMAC!

Diane Karras
1 year ago

“DITTO” Great Information ! Thank You AMAC for keeping us informed.

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