As hard as it can be to believe it, some people are taking advantage of the worldwide coronavirus pandemic to try to scam others. These criminals are exploiting the fears and uncertainty around COVID-19 to profit from the situation. As with many scammers, these attacks are often targeting our country’s most vulnerable populations, including the elderly. As a caregiver, there are steps you can take to protect the seniors in your life from falling for these scams.
What Types of Coronavirus Scams Are There?
There are many different scams being reported to the Department of Justice. Some people have been approached by people or businesses selling fake cures. Others have reported phishing emails that seem to come from the World Health Organization of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There are websites and apps that seem to share COVID-19 information, but then lock your device until payment is made. Another scam is fraudulent donation sites for fake or non-existent charities. The Justice Department has been taking action against these scams — the first being a restraining order against a website offering a fraudulent vaccine.
Unfortunately, some people see this crisis as a chance to profit from those who are scared, unsure, and looking for information surrounding the current state of the world. The seniors in your life are probably more likely to be targeted than you are, but you can help them avoid these scams and protect themselves and their money.
The AARP this week released a study that found the rate of elder financial exploitation has more than doubled since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March of 2020. It found in 2020 alone, COVID-related scams stole $100 million from older adults.
Talking with Your Aging Loved One about Coronavirus Investment Scams
The best time to discuss these coronavirus investment scams with the seniors in your life is before they’re targeted by one. Talk with them — or, if you’re not currently in the same household, give them a call — and explain that they could receive a fraudulent message. While you don’t want to scare them unnecessarily, informing them of these types of scams can make them more aware and vigilant, and therefore more protected. Explain to them the different types of scams that the Department of Justice has been reporting.
Remind them that they shouldn’t click on links in emails from people they don’t know and if they’re unsure about something that they should ask your opinion. Many seniors who aren’t tech-savvy realize that their children can see what’s real or fake easier than they can.
Also, tell them to hang up if they receive any robocalls. Don’t press a number to speak to someone or even be removed from the calling list — just hang up. This way they can’t accidentally put themselves on a list for even more fraudulent calls.
Finally, advise them to ignore any advertisements or messages about ordering vaccinations or home testing kits. These products are not approved by the FDA and will not actually help anyone who has or thinks they have the coronavirus.
Combatting Coronavirus Scams
One of the best ways to combat these scams is to fact-check. Whether it’s a news article on social media, a realistic-looking email, or a financial plea from a charity, the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones are to verify the information first. Look for other sources, especially official sources like the CDC or WHO, that are sharing the same information. Search for the charity and find information about who they are and how long they’ve been established. Verify that emails are coming from reliable sources.
It can sometimes be difficult for seniors to determine some of these distinctions. Encourage your loved ones to ask you before they take any action related to these types of messages. If possible, consider finding a time that you and they can talk about the most recent information about COVID-19. This way you’ll know they’re up-to-date on information and they won’t feel the need to rely on articles online or information from other (potentially fraudulent) sources.
Ensuring Your Loved One’s Safety
This can be a stressful time for everyone. Caregivers are often worried enough about their senior’s physical health, but now there’s the additional concern of fraud and scams. The Justice Department and FTC have created many resources to help you identify and report any scams you or your loved ones may find. Keep yourself aware, be vigilant, and always remember to approach seniors from a place of understanding when it comes to coronavirus investment scams.
We at Episcopal Church Home hope you and your family are staying healthy and well during this time. For more on how we are responding to the coronavirus pandemic here at our community, visit our website.
(This blog has been updated with new information about the AARP BankSafe report about Pandemic-era financial exploitation)