Critter Corner: Steer Clear of these Coronavirus Scams

Dear Angel,

My mom is home alone during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. She gets lots of calls that seem suspect. For instance, someone called her trying to sell her face masks and someone else called asking for donations, claiming they were from the CDC. What are some of the most common COVID-19 scams out there that are affecting seniors, so I can tell her what to look out for?

Thanks so much,

S. “Cam” Inmom

Dear Cam,

Where most people see the COVID-19 pandemic as a national emergency, scammers are using the opportunity to prey on others — and many are targeting seniors. These are some of the most common scams to watch out for at this time:

Travel scam: Imagine getting a great deal for a vacation overseas. You make a down payment, but the “agency” sends a message saying the trip has been postponed. Eventually, they tell you that due to the coronavirus, they are not issuing any refunds. This is one of many scams reported to the Better Business Bureau in recent weeks.

Testing scams: People are faking being Center for Disease Control (CDC) employees, saying they need to prescreen before testing can take place. They call and say they need to get your Social Security number and your date of birth to start the process.

Fraudulent products claiming a cure: From special teas to essential oils to silver lozenges, numerous companies have been touting that their products have the ability to prevent or treat coronavirus. Some of these alternative remedies my house to boost your immune system, but unfortunately there currently are no approved vaccines, drugs, or investigational products available to prevent or cure the virus.

Charitable donations: Whenever a crisis occurs, scammers will try to draw on individual goodwill to seek “donations” for a worthy cause. If you would like to contribute to efforts to support those affected by the coronavirus pandemic — such as older adults who are homebound and unable to access food or medication, or those who’ve lost employment and need financial relief — be sure to research a charity first. Sites such as Charity Navigator, Guidestar, and the Better Business Bureau provide comprehensive, vetted reviews of top charities.
Impostor callers: Phony callers pretending to represent a government agency are one of the top-reported scams. As more Social Security offices temporarily close and the IRS offers leniency on tax filing, scammers are taking advantage of these things to cold call older adults and convince them to release personal information or face discontinuation of benefits.

Please note that government agencies rarely contact people by phone unless you have ongoing business with them and they never make threats about arrest or legal action. Report suspicious calls to the SSA Office of the Inspector General by calling 1-800-269-0271, and report instances of IRS-related fraud to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 1-800-366-4484.

Investment opportunities: A biotech company you’ve never heard of is working hard on developing a vaccine for the coronavirus. If you buy company stock now, you’re sure to get a windfall when the markets go up, right? If this sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

If you are looking to invest in a company, be sure to do your research and remember that investment scammers often exploit the latest crisis to make themselves rich.

Home cleaning with bleach (as seen in Southern PA): There are 2 men who are knocking on doors telling people they’re there to disinfect their homes with bleach. A FB alert indicates that they are very forceful and intimidating and I’m not sure what their intent might be. They’re in an out-of-state vehicle.

Hope this is helpful and your mom stays away from unscrupulous scammers during this troubling time.

Take care of yourself,

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About Renee Eder

Renee Eder is the Director of Public Relations for the Farr Law Firm, and gives the voice to the Critters of Critter Corner. Renee’s poodle, Penny, is an official comfort dog who she and her children bring to visit with seniors who are in the early stages of dementia at a local senior home once a month.

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