Modified: March 13, 2020 10:36am
Created: March 13, 2020 10:31am
Scammers Exploitation of Fear and Concern Is Very Prevalent
While health care professionals here at home and across the country are dealing with how to address the spread, containment, mitigation and treatment of coronavirus, sadly there are a number of scammers that will try to take advantage of the fears or concerns about the illness. As Erie County’s Taxpayer Watchdog, Erie County Comptroller Stefan I. Mychajliw Jr. released information on how taxpayers, especially seniors, can protect themselves from becoming the victim of a financial scam related to the coronavirus.
“There is a lot of fear surrounding the coronavirus. Look no further than empty shelves in stores across the region. When I went to buy diapers and formula for my two baby boys, many shelves were empty. People are scared. They’re panicked and quickly buying up supplies. Unscrupulous scammers will try to take advantage of that fear. As the ‘Taxpayer Watchdog’ I thought it was important to educate people on how to protect their hard-earned money from scum who are trying to scam people during the coronavirus epidemic,” said Erie County Comptroller Stefan I. Mychajliw Jr.
Among the potential scams concerning the panic surrounding the coronavirus:
- PRICE GOUGING: businesses charging far more than the market value for in-demand goods
- PHISHING: Scammers sending phony emails that look like legitimate businesses or agencies that make you think you’re sending money or spending money on a legitimate business
- FAKE WEBSITES: personal information is being harvested by scammers setting up websites very similar to those where people are checking coronavirus statistics
- DONATION SOLICITATIONS: scammers calling people to donate to coronavirus-based relief efforts, when in fact they are fraudulent
- FAKE NEWS: non-reputable information sources making false claims based on the origins and cause of the coronavirus outbreak
In some cases, platforms like Amazon, e-Bay, or Wal Mart report that third party sellers were exploiting consumers by selling products with very high mark-ups, or bogus or damaged products. They may also use your payment apps to acquire your information.
There are multiple agencies meant to protect you from these scams, which can provide guidance as you navigate the challenges.
Currently the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Better Business Bureau (BBB), The Federal Drug Administration (FDA), Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and World Health Organization (WHO) have all issued advisories and warnings about those looking to financially exploit this worldwide pandemic.
These agencies recommend that when receiving emails, text messages, phone calls, or fundraising requests, please double check the source. Often times, these scammers are quite expert at mimicking legitimate agencies and their websites.
“Be leery of any email or phone call from people reaching out to you first. These scammers prey upon fear. They want you to buy products you think you need, or that you are told are cures to the coronavirus. It is recommended you do not provide any personal information via phone call, email or text solicitations.“
“Also, be wary of opening links or attachments sent to you that are somehow connected to this virus. It may be hackers looking to steal your personal information, or gain access to your computer,” added Comptroller Mychajliw.
For example, Johns Hopkins University provides a map that tracks the coronavirus; how many cases, how many deaths, and in what countries, etc. There is a website now out that’s meant to look like the one provided by Johns Hopkins. When you click on it, they are able to retrieve your information. The CORRECT site for that map is: https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html
The FBI is tracking many of these “phishing” efforts. The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Cyber Division Section Chief, Herb Stapleton tells NBC News that “there is a vector or an approach that we didn’t see three months ago and now is suddenly successful.” You can report suspicious emails to the FBI by going to: https://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx
So, where should you go to find the most up-to-date credible information on coronavirus?
- Centers for Disease Control (CDC): https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/faq.htm
- World Health Organization (WHO): https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/q-a-coronaviruses
- Federal Drug Administration (FDA): https://www.fda.gov/emergency-preparedness-and-response/mcm-issues/coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19
These three websites are recommended as the best sources of accurate medical information on coronavirus itself.
American Banker also warns of price gouging. If you are paying for a product you deem necessary, but is costing exponentially more than it typically would, scammers recognize that. It may prompt you to search for similar, less expensive products online. But those online products may not be what they claim to be and may not be from a reputable seller.
If you believe there is price gouging, or you fell victim to fraud, contact the New York State Attorney General’s office, Division of Consumer Protection at 1-800-697-1220. You can reach them online at: https://ag.ny.gov/consumer-frauds/Filing-a-Consumer-Complaint
The Better Business Bureau can also provide you information as to whether a particular business is legitimate, as well as some of the scams that are currently out there: https://www.bbb.org/council/coronavirus
“Remember, those looking to cause more harm or create further uncertainty prey on fear and disruption. They recognize the ease with which they can lure you in by offering information, products, etc. related to this global challenge. Take necessary precautions to make sure you don’t fall victim to their scams,” concluded Comptroller Mychajliw.
Additionally, it is important to take a reasoned approach to news you may hear on social media. Cyber security expert Jason Glasberg tells Yahoo News that “the U.S. State Department has identified tweets numbering in the millions that are pushing conspiracy theories, with many of these showing evidence of inauthentic or coordinated activity” intended to further invoke fear or disruption.
This week the CDC announced it was providing financial assistance to state and local governments to help in the coronavirus response. New York State is receiving $18.4 million to help combat coronavirus. But the financial impact may also be far-reaching and longer-lasting; as a result, the federal government will provide aid to some who have been harmed financially.
Small businesses will certainly be feeling the impact of coronavirus. The Small Business Administration (SBA) will be providing disaster loans in some instances. For more information on how to obtain disaster assistance go to: https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/disaster-assistance
There is also some relief being provided to publicly traded companies in the wake of the coronavirus challenges. For more information from the Securities and Exchange Commission, click here: https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2020-53