Dear Savvy Senior: Amid all the troubling coronavirus news, I’ve also read that there are various coronavirus scams going around right now taking advantage of innocent people who are afraid of getting sick or are worried about those who have. What can you tell me about coronavirus scams, and what can I do to protect myself? — Scared Senior
Dear Scared: Unfortunately, coronavirus scams are spreading nearly as fast as the virus itself, and seniors are often the most vulnerable.
These con artists are setting up websites to sell bogus products and using spoofed phone calls, emails, texts and social media posts as a ruse to take your money and get your personal information.
The emails and posts may be promoting awareness and prevention tips, and fake information about cases in your community. They also may be asking you to donate to victims, offering advice on unproven treatments or containing malicious email attachments.
Here are some tips to help you keep the scammers at bay.
>> Click carefully: Don’t click on coronavirus-related links from sources you don’t know in an email or text message. The same goes for unfamiliar websites. When you click on an email or download a file, you could get a program on your computer that could either use your computer’s internet connection to spread malware or dig into your personal files looking for passwords and other information.
>> Ignore bogus product offers: Ignore online offers for coronavirus vaccinations or miracle cures. There are no vaccines, pills, potions, lotions, lozenges or over-the-counter products available to treat or cure coronavirus, online or in stores. If you see or receive ads touting prevention, treatment or cure claims for the coronavirus, ignore them because they’re not legitimate.
>> Beware of CDC spoofing: Be wary of emails, text messages or phone calls claiming to come from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and/or the World Health Organization. These scams could take several forms, such as fake health agency warnings about infections in your local area, vaccine and treatment offers, medical test results, health insurance cancellation, alerts about critical supply shortages and more.
For the most up-to-date information about the new coronavirus, visit CDC.gov/coronavirus.
>> Beware of fundraising scams: Be wary of emails or phone calls asking you to donate to a charity or crowdfunding campaign for coronavirus victims or for disease research. To verify a charity’s legitimacy, use CharityNavigator.org. But, if you’re asked for donations in cash, by prepaid credit card or gift card, or by wiring money, don’t do it because it’s probably a scam.
>> Beware of stock scams: The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is warning people about phone calls and online promotions, including on social media, touting stocks of companies with products that supposedly can prevent, detect or cure coronavirus. Buy those stocks now, they say, and they will soar in price.
But the con artists have already bought the stocks, which typically sell for a dollar or less. As the hype grows and the stock price increases, the con men dump the stock, saddling other investors with big losses. It’s a classic penny-stock fraud called “pump and dump.” Making matters worse: You may not be able to sell your shares if trading is suspended.
When investing in any company, including companies that claim to focus on coronavirus-related products and services, carefully research the investment and keep in mind that investment scam artists often exploit the latest crisis to line their own pockets.
For more tips on how to avoid getting swindled, see the Federal Communications Commission COVID-19 consumer warning and safety tips at FCC.gov/covid-scams.
Jim Miller is a contributor to NBC-TV’s “Today” program and author of “The Savvy Senior.” Send your questions to Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070; or visit savvysenior.org.