Scammers use fake websites, phony remedies to prey on fears during pandemic

Consumers have lost $74 million to opportunistic fraudsters, FTC says

SAN ANTONIO – As COVID-19 inundates hospitals and headlines, fraud cases are piling up, too.

“Unfortunately, scammers are very creative and they come up with all sorts of ways to prey on people in the midst of a pandemic,” said Christina Tetreault, Consumer Reports financial policy advocate.

In the first half of this year, the Federal Trade Commission has recorded more than 59,000 complaints related to coronavirus or stimulus scams with losses of more than $74 million.

Identity theft is thriving and it goes beyond credit card abuse. The FBI reported a spike in fake unemployment claims, too.

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Among the tricks to separate people from their money - phony remedies. No cures or vaccines have been approved to treat COVID-19 but fraudsters are selling teas, essential oils and intravenous vitamin C therapies.

Although most stimulus checks have been delivered, the scams continue. Beware of calls or emails that use the word stimulus and ask for your social security number or other sensitive personal information.

As more people stay at home, more work-from-home offers are showing up in inboxes. Beware of those that ask you to pay a lot of money up front for materials. Jobs are supposed to pay you.

Scammers also also known to impersonate contact tracers. Instead of asking about your whereabouts, they are asking for financial account information, which contact tracers do not need.

Even the FTC has been the target of impersonators. An email, appearing to be from the FTC, refers to a “Global Empowerment Fund.” All recipients need to do is supply financial data. There is no such fund, the FTC says.

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Phishing scams are prevalent, too. Consumer Reports warns people to be skeptical of websites that have coronavirus or COVID-19 in their domain name.

“People need to be vigilant about sharing information if they did not initiate the contact,” Tetreault said.

To protect yourself, advocates say when you get an call, text or email or see an offer on social media, take time to do a little research. Even a Google search of the subject name plus the words scam and complaint may reveal red flags.

About the Author

Marilyn Moritz is an award-winning journalist dedicated to digging up information that can make people’s lives a little bit better. As KSAT’S 12 On Your Side Consumer reporter, she focuses on exposing scams and dangerous products and helping people save money.

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