The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has provided guidance for senior consumers on how to best avoid scams stemming from renewed efforts by bad actors in the midst of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Representatives from the Bureau, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) went over these practices during a webinar presentation on Tuesday this week.
According to data from the FTC, the top complaints received related to scams stemming from COVID-19 were through online shopping websites, scam text messages and scams attempted through phone calls. In online arenas, scammers typically employ pop-up notifications that often claim to be from legitimate authorities such as the World Health Organization (WHO), and seniors are advised to avoid clicking links from sources they are not familiar with even if a source looks legitimate.
Imposter scams were the number one reported scam type to Consumer Sentinel, the FTC’s investigative cyber tool which provides members of its network with access to the records of millions of consumer complaints. Common tactics of imposter scammers include someone pretending to be from the Social Security Administration telling a potential victim that their social security number has been “frozen,” or someone from HHS or Medicare claiming that a call back can get the caller a free back brace.
Other imposters may claim to be a family member asking for money to cover some kind of emergency; a tech support specialist offering “assistance” with devices in the home; a fake law enforcement officer warning of an arrest warrant in the victim’s name that can be “canceled” for a fee; or a bogus potential romantic partner aiming to glean more sensitive personal information from the potential victim.
Scammers have also recently taken to claiming they have information about a vaccine for the coronavirus, offering test kits, miracle cures or scams related to access through a potential victim’s Medicare benefits. Some scammers have even claimed to be COVID-19 contact tracers, saying they require sensitive information like credit card, bank account or Social Security numbers, information related to a potential victim’s immigration status, or even just asking for payments outright over the phone.
Real contact tracers will never ask for a payment of any kind, nor will they ever require that kind of sensitive personal information to be relayed over the phone. The CFPB and FTC both recommend never offering such information if someone claiming to be a contact tracer asks for it, nor should a target for such a scam ever click on links in emails that have the potential to download malware to their device.
The FTC has created a dedicated web portal specifically designed to offer more information about potential coronavirus-related scams. Those who may know a victim or potential victim of elder financial abuse are encouraged to report the incident to a local office of Adult Protective Services (APS), which can be found through the organization’s website.
Scams or fraud should be reported to the FTC using that agency’s complaint form.