The Kane County Auditor’s Office is warning residents of increasing numbers of scams related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a report to the Kane County Finance & Budget Committee, Auditor Terry Hunt mentioned a number of new coronavirus-related scams created to seek vulnerabilities in governmental and IT networks.
That prompted Hunt to do some research on similar scams with individual persons as targets.
“And it was eye-opening,” he said.
Hunt said the Internal Revenue Service is reminding taxpayers to be on guard for tax fraud and other financial scams that have popped up since the pandemic began.
Probably the first and biggest concern is a rash of scams involving stimulus checks. Some of these scams suggest that you can get more money or get your check faster if you share personal details and pay a small processing fee.
“That’s not true,” Hunt said. “There are no shortcuts to stimulus checks.”
IRS CI has received reports of phishing schemes sent via e-mails and texts and even through the regular mail. Hunt said these schemes — which use keywords like “coronavirus,” “COVID-19” and “stimulus” — are an effort to get your personally-identifying information or financial account information.
While the U.S. House of Representatives has passed a second round of stimulus checks in legislation known as the HEROES Act, the Senate hasn’t taken up the bill, Hunt said.
“Don’t fall for any suggestion you need to ‘apply’ for that second check,” Hunt said. “There is no second check in the works currently.”
Other COVID-19-related scams involve setting up fake charities for individuals and groups affected by the disease. If you don’t recognize the charitable organization, Hunt suggests you call the charity at the number listed on their official website.
You can also check on a tax-exempt organization’s federal tax status by using the IRS online tool here.
Contact Tracing Scams
As more people are tested for coronavirus, you could be contacted by a legitimate public health worker doing contact tracing.
Contact tracing is a public health effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 by reaching out to people who have been in contact with someone who has tested positive. The health official lets you know that you’ve been exposed and where you can get testing or other resources.
Scammers mimic that process, sometimes by sending you an email saying you’ve been exposed and need to self isolate. The email might provide a handy link for more information.
“Do not click on the link,” Hunt said. “Such links can contain malware that will be downloaded to your device, making your personal information and passwords vulnerable.”
Sometimes scammers use robocalls. If you elect to speak to a representative, the “contact tracer” asks to verify your personal information, starting with your name and address, then moving to more-personal information, like your social security number or bank account.
Legitimate contact tracers will almost always call by phone, identify themselves and the health organization they represent. They will ask you to confirm your name, address, date of birth, your present state of health, medical history and recent travels — but they will never ask for financial information.
If you receive an email or text with a link, check the URL, colloquially called a web address. (For example, the IRS’s URL is htts://www.irs.gov.) The scammer’s URL might look official, but if it doesn’t end in .gov, you might be in for trouble.
“When in doubt, perform a separate internet search for the website,” Hunt said.
6 COVID-19 Scams Targeting Seniors
Seniors are being targeted by a broad array of coronavirus cons that can harm them financially and emotionally.
Here are brief summaries of six such scams:
Home Test Kits For COVID-19
Scammers are calling or sending text messages offering “coronavirus test kits” in an attempt to collect credit card or banking information. Sometimes, scammers pose as officials from the U.S. Centers For Medicare and Medicaid Services and ask seniors to verify their Medicare ID or Social Security number.
Scammers my also ask for a home address, stating that they want to drop off the test kit.
Bogus COVID-19 Products And Services
Several scams are falsely advertising fake drugs, vaccines and devices that claim to prevent or cure COVID-19. They prey on fears of shortages and encourage older adults to stock up and purchase products at drastically higher prices.
Impersonating a Government Agency
Scammers pose as someone from the Social Security Administration and mislead elderly recipients by telling them benefits will be suspended or decreased due to COVID-19 unless they can provide personal information or payment.
Several scams are offering low-cost health and life insurance, often in conjunction with at-home COVID-19 test kits or other products that are being presented as free gifts.
The Federal Communications Commission is aware of several scams related to stimulus payments and loans that are being offered as part of the federal government’s response to COVID-19. These scams ask consumers to provide bank account information so funds can be released or loan applications can be approved.
Charity scams prey on hte good nature of many older adults by aiming to collect money for bogus COVID-19 relief charities.
How Seniors Can Avoid COVID-19 Scams
Seniors first need to be aware these scams exist. They need to know that government agencies will never ask them to provide personal or payment information via phone, text or email.
Family caregivers should also talk to their loved ones about how they can protect themselves from scams b following these FCC recommendations:
- Don’t answer calls or respond to text messages that come from unknown or suspicious numbers.
- Don’t share personal or financial information via phone, email or text.
- Be suspicious of any caller who pressures them to make an immediate payment or share personal information.
- Refrain from clicking on suspicious links in text messages or emails, even if they appear to come from a friend or family member.
- Verify charities by calling or checking the organization’s website before giving money.
The Kane County Health Department website has additional advice on how to avoid a coronavirus scam and being aware of fraudulent coronavirus tests, vaccines and treatments.
The U.S. Justice Department also has a Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721.