As you take precautions to protect yourself from the coronavirus, don’t forget to safeguard your financial well-being from fraudsters who are hoping to cash in on the paranoia. Here’s how you can identify scams that are currently being used and what you can do to ensure you are shielded from fraud during the pandemic.
Well this escalated quickly.
The coronavirus is a devastating pandemic that is making a massive impact on the economy and health care systems all across the world. As of March 20, the world has experienced over 267,000 cases of the virus and although Canada is only representing a small portion of that total with 925 cases, we are in uncharted territory. Terms like “social distancing” and “self monitoring” have become second nature in (remote) conversation and we’ve all been exchanging shows to binge on Netflix during our two week long self-isolation periods.
This is truly an unsettling time where paranoia and panic are running rampant. Unfortunately, like a virus themselves, fraudsters and scammers feed on this urgency and as if we didn’t have enough to worry about, with the increase in global coverage comes an increase in fraud activity. Let’s make sure you are briefed and safeguarded against the types of fraud to watch out for so you can focus on protecting yourself from the global pandemic.
Fraudulent Health Products & Professionals
Fraudsters know that during a pandemic, your anxiety surrounding your health skyrockets and you’ll do whatever it takes to ensure you and your family are protected. From the moment that the coronavirus hit the global media, scammers were creating fake products that claim to boost your immune system, cure you from symptoms and, in some instances, have access to a vaccine.
The sad truth of the matter is that although they are in development, we are likely a year away from having a vaccine available and there are no approved drugs to prevent the virus. The websites and messages that these scammers are sending are chocked full with convincing information on the product, faux testimonials, professional sounding terms like “clinical trial” and even conspiracy theories about their company having access to a vaccine that the pharmaceutical industry is withholding for money. We’ve also seen con artists who are impersonating World Health Organization professionals with alleged access to information on a miracle drug. These con artists have been sending emails with important updates on the virus that prompts readers to click on a phishing link or download malicious software.
How you can protect yourself: Caution will prevail here. As long as you know that any medical information, especially on vaccines or treatment, will come directly from your healthcare professional and not from a link from a suspicious email address – you’ll know not to click anything or entertain any offers for a miracle drug. Be suspicious of products and “professionals” that have cured the virus and when in doubt, check with your health care professional.
Fake Charities & Fundraising Efforts
Another tactic that fraudsters employ is to pull on your heart strings. With the coronavirus affecting so many small businesses and charities, many are calling for aid in order to navigate these tough waters. Scam emails and phone calls have been going out to try and trick people into donating to fake charities and relief efforts. They may say that they are looking for a small donation but as soon as they have your credit card number or authorization, they have access to take as much as they want.
In addition, you may see a few GoFundMe pages pop up on social media feeds to rally monetary support to offset expenses that affected families are incurring due to the virus. Most of these pages are started by incredibly generous people in order to provide support for families in a time of need, but unfortunately, scammers and fraudsters have also taken advantage of this method.
How you can protect yourself: Unless you know the family that is garnering the support or someone you know can vouch for them, it is safest to move along from any GoFundMe page or fundraising websites calling for monetary support. If you do want to contribute some money to a relief fund, consider experienced or established relief organizations, especially those that clearly describe the use of the funds. Beware of scammers impersonating those organizations, though!
Face Mask Scams
Yes, these are a thing. Scammers are actually capitalizing on the high demand for face masks. Many different websites and organizations claiming to sell face masks online are attempting to lure you in by showing they have a limited amount of stock available. Why is this effective? The urgency and scarcity for an in-demand product will increase the likelihood of an impulsive purchase. It’s the same method that infomercials employ with “Act now before it’s gone!” messaging. The Red Cross has actually issued a warning that scammers are posing as them to solicit face mask purchases through text messages.
How you can protect yourself: Whether it is face masks, hand sanitizer or another product you are buying to protect yourself and your loved ones, make sure you are keeping an eye out for phony e-commerce sites and scams. If your gut is telling you that something “just doesn’t feel right” or “it seems too good to be true”, it most likely is. Only purchase from stores and websites with an established reputation. The most effective way to avoid a scam is to buy directly from a seller you are familiar with and who you already trust. When in doubt, make sure the seller has legitimate contact information, a real street address and a customer service number you can call before you hand over your name, address and credit card number.
It has yet to be seen how long the coronavirus will remain classified as a pandemic, but heightened fraud activity will be a constant throughout. Remain vigilant to avoid scams related to the virus, use caution when giving out your credit card information to e-commerce and relief efforts, and look out for fake cures, phony prevention measures, and other coronavirus cons. We’ll get through this – but let’s make sure your financial well-being does, too.
Former Marketing Manager and In-Game Host for the Saskatchewan Roughriders who still gets his football fix by taking his office fantasy football league a little too seriously. Moved to Regina after growing up in a small town of 275 people and now after 10 years of “big city living” and loose spending habits – I’m working on being a little more disciplined with my money…(full bio in “Meet the Authors”)
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