As of June 14, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) had received more than 517,500 consumer complaints linked to COVID-19 and stimulus payments, 72 percent of them involving fraud or identity theft. These scams have a very big cost for consumers more than $469 million, with a median loss of $360. Fraudsters are using the full suite of scam tools — phishing emails and texts, bogus social media posts, robocalls, impostor schemes and more — and closely following the headlines, adapting their messages and tactics as new medical and economic issues arise.
Rental-car cons: Several travelers alerted AARP this spring to fake rental-car-company scams. Crooks set up phony customer service numbers online that look just like those of major rental-car companies. When you call, they take your money and personal information, then leave you stranded. Avoid this scam: Before you call or click to reserve a car, verify that you’re calling the real customer service department, or that you’re on a legitimate rental-car-company website.
For example, with several states holding vaccine lotteries to encourage people to get COVID-19 shots, officials are warning of phony calls, texts and emails claiming you've won a big cash award for getting your job and seeking personal or financial information to process the prize. The $1.9 trillion Amercan Rescue Plan Act is bringing a fresh wave of stimulus scams along with a new round of relief payments, enhanced unemployment benefits and small business loans.
Pension scammers are the lowest of the low, stealing people’s hard-earned savings and ruining the lives of people who have worked hard for decades to get the retirement they want. These callous crooks are always changing their tactics and, after the government introduced the cold calling ban in 2019, many moved the goal posts to ensure their nefarious schemes were tricky for even the savviest to spot. Fraudsters now prefer to use more sophisticated online scams, contacting victims through social media and promising a too-good-to-be-true return on investment – often boasting returns that are 7-8 per cent higher than normal.
With economic anxiety high, crooks are also impersonating banks and lenders, offering bogus help with bills, credit card debt or student loan forgiveness. Small businesses are being targeted, too, with scammers reaching out to owners with phony promises to help them secure federal disaster loans or improve Google search results. The outbreak has also spawned stock scams. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is warning investors about fraudsters touting investments in companies with products that supposedly can prevent, detect or cure COVID-19. Buy those stocks now, the tipsters say, and they will soar in price. It's a classic penny-stock fraud called “pump and dump.” The con artists have already bought the stocks, typically for a dollar or less. As the hype grows and the stock price increases, they dump the stock, saddling other investors with big losses.
Be wary of offers found online: Some adverts hosted by tech giants can be fake or link to dodgy offers. Scammers often approach unannounced: If you receive a phone call, email, are approached on social media through comments or direct message, text, letter or even on your doorstep then proceed with extreme caution. Offers of a ‘free pension review’: If someone appears out of the blue, and offers a ‘free pension review’, be wary. Offers or mentions of ‘one-off investments’, time-limited offers, upfront cash incentives, ‘free pension reviews’, ‘legal loopholes’, ‘early access’ or 'government initiatives' are all pension scam warning signs. If you are feeling rushed to make a decision, take a moment to ask yourself if this is a legitimate offer, and bear in mind that no legitimate fund would pressure you into saving with them. Incredible returns on investment: If you receive an offer of unbelievable returns (typically 7 per cent or 8 per cent or higher), but only if you transfer immediately, this should set alarm bells ringing. Report anything suspicious: If you think you’ve been the victim of a scam you should report it to Action Fraud at www.actionfraud.police.uk.
In addition, cybercrooks registered tens of thousands of COVID-related spoof web domains in the first year of the pandemic, according to a March 2021 report by Palo Alto Networks, a cybersecurity company. The Justice Department has shut down hundreds of these suspect sites, which promise access to personal protective equipment, relief payments, vaccines and other aid, often in the guise of government agencies or humanitarian organizations. If you contact one of those malicious domains, you could start getting phishing emails from fraudsters in an attempt to get personal information from you directly, or to plant malware that digs into personal files on your computer, looking for passwords and other private data for purposes of identity theft.