by Billye Johnson
March 14, 2020
Who knew when we were raising a glass of champagne on December 31 2019 that 2020 would be a banner year for craziness? While certain politicians were busy pretending the coronavirus was a new version of the garden variety flu, another group was looking at it as a new way to part people from their hard earned money. And the schemes proliferated like toadstools after a spring rain.
Snake Oil and Other Scams
A long time scammer hit the ground running on February 19 with a “sure cure” for the now named COVID-19. Jim Bakker, who is most noted to selling tickets to heaven and scamming his followers, now had the first cure for COVID-19. Silver Solutions, touted by Bakker and “natural health expert” Sherrill Sellman, could eliminate, kill and deactivate the virus and it would only set you back $80 for four 4 oz. bottles. While the FDA was able to put a stop to this, other “cure” concepts stepped up to fill the void. Even Trump had his own take on the matter with a combination of medications that proved fatal in several countries. Even that fact didn’t stop Trump who suggested bright lights and disinfectants would do the trick. Poison control centers received call after call from Trump supporters who had tried a wide range of disinfectant products with less than miraculous effects.
Bottom line: We may have to be our brother’s or sister’s keeper if they are inclined to believe religious scammers or former reality TV hosts instead of scientists and medical experts.
I’m not a doctor but I play one…
If the scammers can’t wrest your money with fake cures, they will try to convince you that you need real honest-to-gosh medical items to survive. Using robocalls, text messaging and even ads on popular web sites, these liars will tell you that they have medical supplies like surgical masks and supplies that will keep you safe. They even have test kits to put you ahead of the game, but supplies are getting low and they don’t want you to miss out. The variation on this theme is a request to help supply much needed medical supplies to the hospitals and medical teams in need. For requests like these, taking a few minutes to go to legitimate sites (and not the one listed in the text message or email) can ensure your donation goes to actual charities instead of into someone’s pocket.
Bottom line: Once they have your debit or credit card information, all bets are off that you will receive anything matching the descriptions they gave you. If you do receive anything, it will be inferior to the real thing by a long shot. Not only that, but your card info could turn up later when someone in Romania wants to buy a new computer system. The best bet is to hang up on the calls, not respond to the emails or ads that could have malware, never open a link directly from a source unless you request it from a source you are 100% sure of and keep your money safe.
Stimulus Check Cheats
Con artists must have cheered when they heard about stimulus checks. After all, it was another way to rehash old tricks to steal money from unsuspecting people. Many consumers have noticed an uptick in the number of phone calls, text messages and emails from unknown sources. These are the three favorite methods the con artists use to get information and money from their targets.
Stimulus check thieves jumped into the game early with calls and emails telling taxpayers they needed help negotiating the IRS maze to get their funds. Not so. The “rules” for qualifying for these checks were straightforward, even if the information was spotty at times. Having a government web page with technical hiccups created opportunities for the thieves. They promised to smooth the way for taxpayers and speed up the stimulus checks by taking their “applications” over the phone or at an official looking web site. Sure enough, these will give thieves all the information they need to steal stimulus checks and even help them dip into private bank accounts, apply for credit cards, purchase items and damage credit reports of the unsuspecting victims.
Bottom line: The only authorized resource is straight from the IRS. If you have not received your stimulus check, go to irs.gov/coronavirus. You will be asked a few simple questions like your social security number, date of birth and your address. From that information, you will receive the date the funds should reach you and the method (either check or direct deposit) of delivery.
In the not exactly illegal (but pretty darned questionable) department, less than reputable lenders also flooded the emails of Texans with offers to lend money to those who had been laid off. With unemployment claims taking much longer than ever to process, these companies were banking on desperation to line their pockets. Interest rates on these loans are in the high double and even triple digits and make repayment almost impossible for the average consumer.
For more information about ways consumers can protect themselves from liars, scammers and cheats, go to https://www.ftc.gov/coronavirus/scams-consumer-advice.