By Russ and Tiña De Maris
As if the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t create enough problems – toilet paper shortages, campground closures, etc. – here’s another surfacing problem: A pandemic of pandemic scammers. Reports are coming in from across the country of smooth-talking folks – ones looking to turn fears of coronavirus into a way to worm into wallets. Here’s what to watch out for, and how to protect yourself.
Contact tracing scams
When someone tests positive for COVID-19, many health departments will then try and figure out who that person has been in contact with. That way, they can trace those folks down to ensure they quarantine themselves. They also want them tested for the disease. Contact tracing means a phone call to those who may be unwelcome recipients of coronavirus. Here’s where the scam comes in.
Someone claiming to be a contact tracer calls you, advising you’ve been in contact with an infected person. They stress how important it is that you are tested for COVID-19. They may, or may not, also stress you need to quarantine. But the scammer goes farther – he’ll see to it that you’re sent a “test kit” so you can check yourself at home. And the rub? Ah, he’ll need a credit card number for the cost of the test. Legitimate contact tracers will refer you to a public facility for testing, for free. Hang up the phone.
“We’ve got your results”
As the health system tries to get a handle on just how many people may have COVID-19, more testing is being done. This time, your phone rings, and the caller tells you they have your test results now. If you actually had a COVID-19 test done, this sounds like the call you’ve been waiting for. The scammer doesn’t really have results – he just needs that old “financial information” before he can give you the results. Legitimate labs and health agencies don’t ask for money or financial information.
An obvious tip off is, you haven’t had a coronavirus test. The scammer doesn’t know that, it’s just a “numbers game.” If he calls enough numbers, he’ll soon enough find somebody who really has had the test. If you did have a test performed and haven’t received results, just look out for the request for personal or financial information. If you still aren’t sure, ask for the name of the laboratory or health agency that’s calling, and hang up. Look up the number for the outfit on the Internet or in your phone book. Then call that number to see if they’ve really called you.
They use e-mail, too
While the “got your results” and the “contact-tracing” scams could also be run via e-mail, it’s more likely you’ll get an e-mail providing you with “important information” about how to protect yourself from COVID-19. These e-mails may purport to be from legitimate organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the World Health Organization (WHO). In keeping with bold and scheming smarty-scammers, they may include the organization’s logotype.
The hack here: You’ll be given links to click on for more information. Click on the link and you may open your computer to having malicious software dumped inside. Software that can pick its way through your confidential files, or that can record what you type on your keyboard and send it “home” to the scammers – think credit card numbers, dates of birth, information that in the wrong hands could make your life miserable.
DUMP any e-mails that claim to provide information about COVID-19. If you want to know straightforward, legitimate information, then go straight to the legitimate source. Use your browser to locate the REAL website of, say, the CDC or World Health Organization.
The corona-crooks are out there. Don’t let them infect you.