Pandemic Swindlers: Scams to Watch Out for during the COVID-19 Outbreak

While the majority of Americans are staying home whenever possible to slow the spread of COVID-19, some bad actors are taking advantage of the situation to perpetrate scams. With more people at home during work hours, it has never been easier for scammers to target unsuspecting people with calls, text messages, and emails. Some scammers are even knocking on doors. Here are some scams you should look out for in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak. Above all, remember that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t true.

Baltimore City Water Bill Scams:

In Baltimore City, the Department of Public Works (DPW) has issued a warning that scammers may call you or show up at your door, claiming to represent DPW. They’ll say you owe money on your water bill, or they might try to sell you a water filter, claiming it will prevent the spread of coronavirus. In reality, the virus has not been detected in drinking water, and is not transmittable through water. The real DPW states that they will never show up at your house unless you have requested maintenance. Also, be aware that real DPW employees must carry a Baltimore City employee badge, which includes photo identification.

Computer Support Scams:

Another scam on the uptick is the familiar tech support call. Someone will call you claiming to represent Microsoft, Apple, or another computer company, and say that they need to perform routine maintenance or upgrades on your computer, or to remove a virus. This is an attempt to trick you into giving the scammer remote access to your computer, so that they can potentially steal personal information such as credit card numbers, social security numbers, or other sensitive material. Be aware that no such “maintenance” calls ever happen through legitimate computer companies. Only maintenance that you have personally requested would be performed in this way. These scams are increasing due to the number of people staying indoors during the work day.

Job Offer Scams:

Scammers are even taking advantage of the fact people have lost their jobs in the wake of COVID-19. If you receive an email you weren’t expecting, and it contains job postings, be cautious. This could be a scam designed to obtain personal information about you. If you click through to a job posting, and you are asked to provide your social security number or credit card information, this could be a scam. You do not have to pay a fee to apply for a job at any legitimate company.

Tax Stimulus Scams:

You may receive a text message or email about accessing your federal stimulus payment. The U.S. Congress passed the CARES Act, which will provide payments to eligible individuals and families in the country. But scammers are taking advantage of the stress and confusion surrounding this virus pandemic, and may try to use the stimulus check as their bait. No one from the State of Maryland or the U.S. Government will call, text, or email you about your stimulus fund. You do not need to pay any type of fee before receiving your stimulus check. If you are asked to provide payment, or any personal information such as bank account numbers or social security numbers, it’s a scam.

Coronavirus Treatment and Cure Scams:

Do not believe any advertisements for a coronavirus cure. Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for the virus, and no officially approved preventative medicine. Any pills or oils you may see advertised as a “coronavirus cure” are a fraud. The Center for Disease Control states that the best preventative measures are frequent and thorough hand washing, not touching your face, and maintaining six feet of distance from others whenever possible. Eating a balanced diet, staying hydrated, exercising, and getting enough sleep, all part of a healthy lifestyle in any case, are your best bet for keeping your immune system strong.

During this difficult time for our world, it’s important to take care of yourself. While you focus on staying safe and healthy, be aware of those who wish to take advantage of the ongoing crisis to steal your personal information. These are just a few common scams that are designed to prey on older adults and people who are staying indoors to practice social distancing. If you receive a call, text, or email that you were not expecting, use extra caution – it’s probably a scam.

For more information on COVID-19 related scams, visit the Federal Trade Commission or AARP webpages on scams.