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How to Spot the Most Common COVID-Related Scams

Illustration for article titled How to Spot the Most Common COVID-Related Scams

Photo: fizkes (Shutterstock)

Part of the “new normal” of the pandemic is the uptick in COVID-related scams. More than 200,000 Americans have lost a sum total of around $145 million to them since the start of the year, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Here are some of the common frauds catching people off guard.

Fake contact tracers 

If you’re contacted about possible exposure to COVID, make sure the person reaching out to you is a legitimate contact tracer. Contact tracers working for state health departments will reach out via phone, text, or by mail and be able to provide their name, agency, and a phone number. They will ask:

  • For your name and address
  • For your date of birth
  • For your whereabouts on certain dates
  • Questions about whether you’ve experienced any symptoms

Contact tracers will never:

  • Ask for payments or financial information.
  • Ask for your Medicare, Medicaid or insurance policy number.
  • Ask for your Social Security number.
  • Ask about your immigration status.
  • Text or email you weblinks.
  • Threaten you.

Robocalls

According to a recent survey 1 in 5 people have received a robocall regarding COVID. These scam calls are prerecorded messages from people claiming to be contact tracers or agents from government agencies like the IRS or state health departments. Typically, the callers falsely claim to be offering COVID treatment or testing or financial assistance. These messages will ask you to provide personal information, or direct you to press “1” on your phone, which transfers you to a live scammer.

If you get a call like this, do not press any buttons and hang up. Then, report the call to the FTC at donotcall.gov.

Embedded links in texts, or “smishing” 

Police departments across the country have recently issued warnings about malicious links in texts—a form of phishing known as “smishing.” Recently these texts have taken the form of a rash of fake “package pending” delivery notices, but scammers will also send texts claiming to be government workers, tech support, financial institutions or contact tracers.

Clicking a smishing link results in an attempt to gain your personal information or login details, usually through a fake login screen posing as the institution the scammer claims to represent. In some cases, clicking on these links will lead to scammers uploading malware to your device.

Follow these tips to avoid this scam:

  • Never click on links or download attachments from texts or emails without confirming the source. Beware of invites from unknown senders.
  • Avoid login screens provided in emails. Instead, open up your browser and go to the website directly.
  • A fake login page usually contains an unusual URL, non-functioning links or buttons, and spelling mistakes in the instructions.
  • Always think twice about whether a request for your personal information is appropriate.
  • Ignore and delete emails with links written with poor grammar, confusing inconsistencies and unusual formatting.

The FTC has more tips on how to report and prevent COVID-related scams, but as a general rule, if you are sure who is contacting you never click on links or attachments!

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