6 Coronavirus Scams Pennsylvania Residents Should Avoid
The COVID-19 crisis has brought out the best in so many people. Truly heroic and generous deeds have been done as our communities come together to fight off this invisible enemy. However, crises can also prompt less honorable people to seize opportunities to unfairly, unkindly, and greedily take advantage of the vulnerable. As your community bank in Central and Northern PA, we are providing this article to help protect you from falling victim to one of the many scams that these impostors perpetrate. Keep reading to learn about the latest Internet phishing, data security, and other Pennsylvania Coronavirus scams.
This type of scam, in which criminals pose as legitimate businesses or institutions to trick you into giving money or sharing sensitive information, is an ongoing threat.
In the age of coronavirus, phishing scams are centered around messages that appear to be from government officials or the IRS to trick people into turning over their banking information. Remember that Economic Impact payments will be deposited automatically into your bank account beginning in April. You can check on the status of your payment and enter your bank account information (if the IRS doesn’t already have it) on the IRS’s website.
Phishing scammers are also posing as health officials from WHO and CDC and sending phishing emails to trick users into downloading malware to their device. Instead of clicking on links in an email or text message, type cdc.gov or who.int directly into your web browser to visit these organizations’ websites and read the latest Coronavirus updates.
Special Note: For security reasons, the IRS plans to mail a letter about the Economic Impact Payment to the taxpayer’s last known address within 15 days after the payment is deposited. The letter will provide information on how the payment was made and how to report any failure to receive the payment. If a taxpayer is unsure they’re receiving a legitimate letter, the IRS urges taxpayers to visit IRS.gov first to protect against scam artists.
Warning Signs: Look out for phrases like “Stimulus Check” or “Stimulus Payment.” The official term is economic impact payment. Hang up/ignore anyone who asks via phone, email, text or social media for verification of personal and/or banking information. The IRS will never make such a request and there is no way to “speed up” the process.
Scammers are posing as fake health experts to sell fake vaccines, cures, and other “treatments” for the coronavirus. Here is the official word from the FDA on Coronavirus Health Frauds:
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is issuing warning letters to firms for selling fraudulent products with claims to prevent, treat, mitigate, diagnose or cure coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). We are actively monitoring for any firms marketing products with fraudulent COVID-19 prevention and treatment claims. The FDA is exercising its authority to protect consumers from firms selling unapproved products and making false or misleading claims, including, by pursuing warning letters, seizures, or injunctions against products and firms or individuals that violate the law.
If you encounter health scams related to Coronavirus, you can report the website to the FDA here. On the same page, you can review the list of companies and websites they’ve already sent warning letters to.
The Office of the PA Attorney General defines price gouging as:
“Under rules governing a disaster emergency, companies and vendors are prohibited from charging a price for consumer goods that exceeds 20% of the average price to which those goods/services were sold 7 days preceding the date of emergency declaration.”
Price gouging can happen after any disaster, but right now the most common items are essential goods like hand sanitizer, hygiene products, toilet paper, and other paper goods.
On February 4, 2020, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission posted an Investor Alert on their website for Coronavirus-Related Scams:
Fraudsters often use the latest news developments to lure investors into scams. We have become aware of a number of Internet promotions, including on social media, claiming that the products or services of publicly-traded companies can prevent, detect, or cure coronavirus, and that the stock of these companies will dramatically increase in value as a result. The promotions often take the form of so-called “research reports” and make predictions of a specific “target price.” We urge investors to be wary of these promotions, and to be aware of the substantial potential for fraud at this time.
Check their website for more information on how investment scams work and a list of recent trading suspensions.
Pennsylvania has been on a statewide stay-at-home order since April 1st. Now that most office workers are telecommuting to slow the spread, hackers are taking advantage of any opportunity to infiltrate business’ online defenses and gain access to data-rich networks.
To protect yourself and your employer while you work from home, follow this Telework Security Overview & Tip Guide from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
With Americans across the country filing for unemployment benefits in record numbers, and one million claims so far here in Pennsylvania, many people are suffering financially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Scammers are preying on that vulnerability with bogus loans and other financial scams. Here’s what to watch out for:
- Advance Fee Loan Scam: Scammers ask you to pay fees upfront in exchange for a loan. But once you pay the fee, you never hear from them again. These loan offers often take place over the phone and the caller asks for fees to be wired directly to them.
- Foreclosure Bailout Scams: Scammers target struggling homeowners by claiming to be credit counselors or attorneys. They offer to reduce monthly mortgage payments or take other measures to help you prevent foreclosure.
- Rent-to-Buy Scams: This is another scam for homeowners. Scammers claim that if you surrender the title of your property, you can remain in the property as a renter and repurchase at a later date. Offers include incredibly steep payments and you end up owing more on the mortgage than the home is worth. The scammer then keeps the home and the equity.
- Equity Skimming Schemes: Be suspicious of any service provider who asks for upfront payment. Lawyers are exempted from this rule on upfront payment, but you should verify that a lawyer you are working with is licensed to practice law in your state through the state bar association's website.
How to Avoid Coronavirus Scams in PA
- Never share confidential information over unsecured email, phone, or text messages.
- Do your own research. To avoid charity scams, check their website and Internet presence first. Better yet, use a website like Charity Navigator to review your options for charitable giving before deciding.
- Beware of pressure tactics and a heightened sense of urgency. Scammers use these tactics to rush you into a transaction before you have time to realize the red flags.
- Be cautious of offers or deals where payment is required via a wire transfer, gift card, or cash transfer app. Once you send money this way, it is very difficult or impossible to recoup any financial losses.
- Always report scams to the FTC via the FTC Complaint Assistant website.
JVB is here to help you!
Now more than ever, we’re here to help you. If you need us, you can reach us through limited-contact drive-up banking, lobby service by appointment, mobile and online banking, and by phone. Whether you have a question or concern about scams or looking for a financial solution for your current situation, we want to help. For more information on COVID-19 related scams, please view the JVB COVID-19 Stimulus Fraud Issues and COVID-19 Smishing Campaigns article. View our COVID-19 Response for Businesses and our General Information for Consumers and Businesses.