Scammers long ago figured out that the best way to trick someone is to scare them into acting before they have time to think.
Sadly, there are many people out there who are taking advantage of the fear and uncertainty that this global pandemic has caused. The best way to protect yourself from a COVID-19 scam is to know how to spot one.
Here are some red flags to look out for:
Red flag: Someone claims they can expedite your stimulus check
If the government issues another round of stimulus checks, be aware that there have been scammers claiming to be able to expedite your payment. If you receive calls or emails from someone claiming to be able to get you your money faster, hang up on them or delete the email.
Red flag: A “government official” contacts you and asks for your bank account info
Government agencies will not unexpectedly call or email you to ask for your bank account or other personal information. In general, you should never provide sensitive information when someone asks you for it through an unsolicited call or email. Only provide sensitive information over the phone to trusted organizations when you initiated the call.
Red flag: A work-from-home opportunity seems too good to be true
There are plenty of legitimate companies who are hiring for permanently remote roles. However, if a job opportunity seems too good to be true, go with your gut and look elsewhere. Criminals have used the increased demand for remote work to scam people into becoming money mules—meaning a person who unknowingly moves money that was obtained illegally.
Signs a work-from-home opportunity is actually a money mule scheme include:
- Being asked to open a bank account in your name for a business
- Being asked to receive funds in your personal account and then transfer them
- Being allowed to keep a portion of the money you transfer
- Being paid for little or no effort
Learn more about money mule schemes on the FBI’s website.
Red flag: Someone claims they have a cure or vaccine
There is no cure or vaccine for COVID-19 that has been approved by the FDA yet. Ignore anyone claiming to have one. Get accurate, up-to-date information regarding the coronavirus from the CDC or World Health Organization.
Red flag: Someone is offering an at-home test with instant results
There are also currently no COVID tests that can be processed at home. There are tests that you can take at home and send into a lab for analysis, but none that give you results immediately. If you are contacted by someone you don’t know and offered a home test, it is a scam.
Call your physician if you have symptoms of the virus, and ask them to refer you to a testing site. You can also find a testing location near you on the US Department of Health and Human Services website. Thanks to the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, you can get a test for free in the US, even if you are uninsured, so remember that you do not have to pay for a test.
Other tips to avoid scams and fraud
Here are additional tips that can help you avoid being a victim of a COVID-related scam or fraud:
- TruStone will never ask you to give us your account number, password or any other private information via email.
- Government agencies will never ask you to pay with gift cards—if you get a call from someone demanding you to pay a fee by purchasing a gift card and giving them the card information, it is a scam.
Read more general security tips for members.
Hopefully these tips will help you stay alert and avoid a COVID-19 scam. But what happens if you have already become a victim of one?
Report it! Know that you are not the only one who has been tricked by this scam, and by reporting it, you can help prevent others from going through the same thing by providing valuable information to authorities. COVID-19-specific fraud can be reported on the US Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) complaint website. You can report other scams to your local consumer protection agency or, for internet scams, at the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.
Editor’s note: information in this article was sourced from NAFCU (National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions), the FBI, USA Today and the CDC.