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Coronavirus fraud is so bad the FTC made a scam bingo card

Ethan Wolff-Mann
·Senior Writer

With much of the country in quarantine advised to practice social distancing measures, the risk of scams has spiked. Already, coronavirus-related robocalls have gotten worse as scammers have pivoted to use fear and isolation to their advantage. 

On top of that, people are working from home with less security and possible distractions like kids, animals, and more. 

The FTC has already slapped companies on the wrist for misrepresenting products with false claims about how they can treat coronavirus. It has also warned nine internet phone companies (VoIP) to stop “assisting and facilitating” illegal coronavirus telemarketing.

However, that’s only the tip of the iceberg of robocalls and malware — two of the most critical vectors for scammers and fraudsters targeting individuals, according to the ID Theft Center.

The FTC is trying new ways to spread awareness about this very scam-heavy time. (FTC)
The FTC is trying new ways to spread awareness about this very scam-heavy time. (FTC)

Things have gotten so bad that the FTC has experimented with other ways to get people to pay attention: like a scam bingo card.

So far in 2020, the FTC has seen 7,800 coronavirus complaints. Just a week ago, the agency said, the number was half that.

Here’s what some scams sound like, via Nomorobo and the FTC: 

Fraudsters are succeeding

The FTC’s current data say that total losses are around $4.77 million, with a reported median loss of $598.

Aristides Pereira, a spokesperson for the District of Columbia, told Yahoo Finance, that the District’s Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking has found 14 cases of fraudulent financial activity related to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Only two of these attempted scams were successful, both of which were perpetrated via the web,” said Pereira. “These cases are under review by our enforcement division.”

Many people –  especially older Americans, who are more likely to be scammed – don’t report fraud (often because they’re embarrassed they got duped). So these numbers are likely to be far higher. But the percentage of success for scammers from Pereira’s data set of 14, is 14%, which is significant especially given that during a crisis that is already both health and financial-related, that it isn’t further exacerbated by fraud.

There are all sorts of frauds from “banks,” “governments,” and more. It’s even more complicated because some municipalities use robocalls to get information to their residents, like school closings. But there are a few things to know when it comes to money-related things.

First off, the IRS will never call you asking for payment. And if you’re not sure it’s really the IRS — even though your caller ID might say so — hang up and call the number listed on the website. 

Last week President Trump signed off on a $2.2 trillion stimulus package, which includes provisions to send direct payments to Americans who qualify. This might be an opportunity for scammers to target vulnerable people, already stressed about their health and financial wellbeing during an economic crisis.

Zelle, a payments network owned jointly by many of the country’s largest  banks, recently circulated advice from its COO Donna Turner after analyzing millions of transactions 

A few takeaways:

  • No bank will ever call you or email you for information. “Especially with the promise of a stimulus package, these type of scams are on the rise,” she writes.

  • Don’t send money to someone else if someone sends you money and asks you to pass it on.

  • Don’t be a victim to “urgent” requests. Calmly evaluate these, as it’s often a ploy to get you to act before thinking.

  • Only transact with businesses you trust.

  • Report fraud.

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Ethan Wolff-Mann is a writer at Yahoo Finance focusing on consumer issues, personal finance, retail, airlines, and more. Follow him on Twitter @ewolffmann.

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