Stemming the Epidemic of COVID-19 Scams

With often-conflicting information and advisories about the Coronavirus pandemic appearing on a seemingly daily basis, it shouldn’t be a surprise that many criminals and scammers are exploiting people’s fears and confusion to try to steal their money or personal information.

Now more than ever, it’s important to remain vigilant and skeptical when presented with any kind of claim or offer of COVID-19-related products or services, especially those coming via email or through calls from people you don’t know.

Here are a few of the more common scams you should be aware of.

CDC and WHO imposters

Thousands of people are receiving robocalls or scam emails from organizations claiming to be the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) or the World Health Organization (WHO). These scammers often spread disinformation, sell bogus products, or claim they’re looking for volunteers to test preventative treatments or immunizations. Invariably, some will ask you to provide personal information (like your Social Security number) to sign up.

Don't fall for it.

There are only two sites you should visit to find U.S. government-sanctioned information about the status of the pandemic:  coronavirus.gov and usa.gov/coronavirus. The CDC and WHO do not proactively contact people, so if you ever receive a call or email from someone claiming to be from these organizations don't take the bait.

Stimulus check grifters

If you still haven’t received your stimulus check from the U.S. government, you may receive a call or email from someone claiming to be from the IRS. They’ll often say that they need to verify your bank account information or Social Security number before they can send you a payment.

Don’t get taken in.

The IRS will send your payment using the same method—direct deposit, direct deposit debit card, or check—you normally use to send payments or receive a tax refund. If the IRS doesn’t have your direct deposit information, you can use the “Get My Payment” feature at irs.gov/coronavirus to specify a bank account to receive your payment.

Miracle cure hucksters

There’s a whole cottage industry of scammers out there hawking COVID-19 testing kits, immunizations, and various medical and homeopathic treatments via email and in ads on social media sites.

Don't buy in.

There are no FDA approved treatments that people can order on their own, and most medical experts agree that we’re many months away from a viable vaccine. And while many fly-by-night companies are advertising testing kits, very few have been approved by the FDA, and you should only use those provided by your physician.  

Masks in particular have become a cottage industry for scammers. While you’re likely to be able to find cloth masks through various online retailers, don’t fall for anyone offering N95 or surgical masks. Due to the short supply, these masks are generally only available to healthcare workers or to patients who get them through their physicians.

Medicare scammers

A nefarious group of scammers are targeting the elderly, making false claims that Medicare plans won’t cover COVID-19-related diagnoses and treatments. They then claim to offer “low-cost” Coronavirus supplemental healthcare insurance paid directly via credit cards, rather than through Medicare premiums.

Don’t believe them.

To keep up to date on what COVID-19 related costs Medicare covers, visit Medicare’s Coronavirus page at https://www.medicare.gov/medicare-coronavirus.

"Pandemic life insurance" agents

Some telescammers, posing as representatives of well-known insurance companies, claim that existing life insurance policies won’t pay benefits to beneficiaries of those who die of COVID-19-related complications. They instead offer “low-cost Coronavirus life insurance" policies that require no physical exams or proof of good health and can be paid by credit card.

Don't trust them.

Neither these claims or these insurance imposters are real. If you have any question about your life insurance benefits, contact your insurer directly.

CARES Act cons

The CARES Act allows retirees who would be required to take a Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) from their IRA or retirement plan in 2020 to skip this year’s RMD. It also lets people under age 59½ take hardship withdrawals of up to $100,000 penalty-free from their IRA or 401(k) plan to help pay for documented COVID-19 related expenses.

A number of scammers posing as "retirement consultants" are contacting people and offering to “expedite” these CARES Act-related provisions on your behalf for a “small fee.” They’ll often ask for your Social Security number and account information.

Reject these pitches.

If you need help in understanding the pros and cons of these provisions, speak with your accountant, a qualified financial advisor or your plan sponsor.

Seek professional guidance if you're not sure

The best way not to fall for any of these scams is to ignore them entirely. If you need further reassurance, seek guidance from your attorney, tax professional or financial advisor before you act. 

 

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This article was authored by Michael Flaherty and Jeffrey Briskin. Michael is a financial advisor located at Canby Financial Advisors, 161 Worcester Road, Framingham, MA 01701. He offers securities and advisory services as an Investment Adviser Representative of Commonwealth Financial Network®, Member FINRA/SIPC, a Registered Investment Adviser. He can be reached at 508.598.1082 or [email protected]. Jeffrey Briskin is Director of Marketing at Canby Financial Advisors. 

 

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