It seems that each time we endure a new national crisis, another creative method surfaces for the purpose of exploiting tragedy for financial gain. The coronavirus pandemic is no exception, and given the economic strain many citizens already face, falling victim to a financial scam can cause substantial hardship and emotional distress.
McGowan, Hood & Felder, LLC wants you to stay safe in terms of your health and your finances. Here are some of the biggest scams we have heard and read about regarding coronavirus:
- “I have the cure for just $19.99!” No, “you” don’t. If a viable cure were ready, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), and state health departments would be announcing it far and wide. Any email, website, social media post, phone call or mailer that claims to have a cure for a “low, low price” is selling you snake oil. It’s also a smart move to only buy safety items, such as face masks, from trusted sources that you are able to verify as official. The last thing you want is to learn that the mask you’ve been wearing to protect your immunocompromised family member is ineffective.
- “Get your stimulus payment faster through us!” Unsavory individuals are champing at the bit to get their hands on your stimulus check. If your direct deposit information has been submitted and you still receive a check in the mail, don’t cash it before you contact the IRS to verify its validity. Also, no one affiliated with bona fide branches of the government or credible financial institutions will offer to expedite payment in exchange for a fee.
- “There’s a problem with your stimulus payment.” If you receive an email claiming that there’s an issue with your stimulus payment, or claiming you have been hacked, shut down the conversation immediately; do not click and any links, mark the email as “spam,” and contact the IRS. If someone calls you asking for your personal information, hang up your phone and visit the Federal Trade Commission’s website to report the scam. These are common tactics used to obtain access to your personal information for identity theft purposes.
- “Online coronavirus tests are here!” It would be the ultimate social distancing tool if we could take a simple online test rather than drive through a line or go to a hospital, but alas, that’s not a possibility at the moment. Con artists are good at posing as government agencies, but don’t fall for their games. Your genetic information is protected under law; do not submit it to an unknown agency for an online “test.”
- “You’re hired once you pay this processing fee!” Legitimate jobs require interviews and a background check. They don’t require the applicant to pay a fee or to foot the bill for a training course. Scammers count on people experiencing hardship becoming desperate, and once they have you, they know it’s only a matter of time before you hand over your banking and other personal information for payroll.
- “Due to limited inventory, we are raising prices.” It happens virtually any time there’s a disaster. People panic buy certain items. Most of us have seen unprecedented emptying of grocery store shelves during the coronavirus pandemic. Some people aren’t panic buying to hoard for themselves. They’re scooping up the essentials to sell at excessive prices to take advantage of anyone in need. This is called price gouging, and it is illegal. You can report this behavior to the South Carolina Attorney General for investigation here.
Become an online detective
Most scam artists will make themselves appear valid to the general public by ensuring they can be found online, and they’re counting on you being desperate enough not to confirm they’re legitimate. They create professional looking ads and website that build a sense of trust. Don’t be taken in by first impressions. Here are some tips to checking for potential fraud:
- Always independently check out a business or individual claiming to offer help by doing a search online about the company or product. The Better Business Bureau is a good place to start your search. Charity Navigator can help you review non-profit organizations.
- The “company’s” own website will almost always contain reviews painting themselves as a wonderful company with a fabulous product, so check independent websites and read their reviews.
- Look for signs of fraud, such as several very similarly worded posts by different customers, and how far back the reviews date.
- Search social media for the company or product name. For instance, Facebook allows you to filter the type of search you want. Choose “posts” and see if individuals are talking about it and what they have to say.
We certainly have no shortage of scams that can cause harm. The consumer protection attorneys at McGowan, Hood & Felder, LLC in South Carolina want you to know that no matter the form of harm you have experienced during this difficult time, we will be here to help you pursue a claim for the injuries and damages that you sustain. To speak with a member of our legal team, schedule your free consultation today by calling 803-327-7800, or we invite you to reach out to us through our contact page.