Scammers never seem to miss an opportunity to take advantage of natural disasters and other major life disruptions. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic is no exception, Oklahoma State University Extension Specialist Cindy Clampet said.
Several scams have already been reported, said Clampet, an assistant family resource management specialist. One example involves a telephone call from someone claiming to be with the Internal Revenue Service. The caller asks for bank information in order to auto-deposit the upcoming stimulus check.
“While it may sound legitimate, this is a scam,” Clampet said. “Congress just approved the stimulus checks and the IRS will send checks to the address they have on file from your 2018 tax return. The IRS will not call to ask for this information.”
Many rip-offs take similar approaches, typically promising a benefit in exchange for personal information. They also tend to target older people, who may have health concerns to prey on.
In another scam, a fake Medicare authority will ask for data to so that the victim can receive the COVID-19 vaccine or other medicines. The thief can then make false charges to the victim’s Medicare account or even an insurance company. Keep in mind, no vaccine currently is available and likely will not be for at least a year.
“A variation on this is that someone may actually show up at your home to administer the alleged vaccine, and once inside your home, will try to rob you,” she said. “Never let people into your home whom you don’t know.”
Clampet warned that fake email addresses can seem authentic, appearing to be from the U.S. Department of Treasury or other government agency.
In an effort to help the public avoid such crimes, Clampet offered some advice:
- Do not give any personal information about credit card numbers, banking information, social security numbers or insurance or Medicare accounts, even if the caller claims to be from the government.
- Never let strangers into the home. Even if they have official-looking uniforms or badges, confirm their identities first.
- Trust suspicions about anything that seems out of the ordinary.
“Scammers are coming up with new ways every day to steal from us. If anything seems a little bit off, hang up the phone, close the door and don’t respond to the unsolicited email,” she said. “Get someone you trust to help figure out the best thing to do. It’s better to be safe than sorry.”
Scams and attempted scams can be reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.