Brigid Daull Brockway is technically a writer

Brigid Daull Brockway is technically a writer

A blog about words, wordplay, and etymology, with slightly more than occasional political rants.

Friday, April 24, 2020

COVID scam roundup

As the weather turns warmer and the walls of our houses and apartments slowly close in, a lot of people are feeling pretty ripped off. Seniors are getting shafted out of the proms and graduations they've looked forward to for four years, teachers are losing out on the goodbye hugs as they send their kids off, kids can't go out and play with their friends. We are all getting cheated like nobody's business.
Some of us more literally than others.
In times of human tragedy, you can count on a lot of things. You can count on the helpers. On seeing the best in people. On seeing the last person you'd expect step up in a big way.

And you can count on scammers circling like jackals, falling over themselves to make a buck off of fear and misery and suffering. Then there are the normal, garden-variety scams that folks are running across just by virtue of being at home and online more. So I figure it's probably a good time for a good old scam roundup.

Phone phonies
There are a whole mess of scams going around that start with your answering your phone. I've gotten quite a few calls from some organization trying to sell me some bogus supplemental insurance. You might get calls claiming to come from a doctor, or a nonprofit that wants to give you a free coronavirus test kit, or a hospital demanding payment for a loved one whom they claim is close to death.
The AARP gives a bunch of guidelines for avoiding getting taken in by these scams. They say not to even answer the phone if you don't recognize the number on caller ID. If you do answer, and a robot starts talking, try to remember if you've ever given written permission for this company to contact you via robo-dialer. If you haven't, hang up - unsolicited robocalls are illegal.
If a charity calls, it's best not to donate over the phone. Ask them to send you materials in the mail - scammers won't bother - or how to donate online. 
No legitimate organization will ever ask for your full social security number over the phone, and it's best never to give any personal information to a stranger who calls your house. 
If you get a call that rings once and then hangs up, don't call it back. That may be a ploy to get you to call a hotline that charges you a per-minute fee. Beware of phone calls in which you receive a strange-sounding voicemail that doesn't include any discernible words - that's another trick to get you to call a toll number; the scammers come up with audio clips designed to peak a person's interest so they'll be more likely to call back.

According to the BBB, scammers have been texting folks telling them they have to take a mandatory COVID-19 test online, but it's just another scam to get a bunch of your personal information. I mean, "online COVID test" should probably have been your first clue? Anyway, BBB says not to click on the link they send you and not to text them back.

Social Security
The Motley Fool reports that lots of folks are getting official looking mail that seems to have come from Social Security. The letter says that your benefits are going to be suspended due to COVID unless you call a certain phone number. Once you call the number, they tell you that you have to pay to be reinstated, and it's all a ploy to get your personal information and credit card number. 
If you get a letter that seems to come from Social Security, it might be wise to find your nearest Social Security office's phone number online, rather than call the phone number listed on the letter. 

This isn't directly COVID-related, but now that a whole lot of us have nothing better to do than sit at home playing around on social media, many of us have grown careless with personal information. 
A bunch of those surveys that go around asking for your favorite vegetable, your first job, your stripper name (which might consist of the name of, for instance, your first pet, another common password question) - those were designed to get you to reveal your password questions for various websites. That makes it a whole lot easier to hack into your accounts and steal from you.
Another quiz scam - Facebook apps. Couple years ago, Cambridge Analytica got a whole bunch of Facebook users' personal data by getting them to opt in to a Facebook quiz app without reading the end user licence agreement. You'd think after that happened Facebook would have taken steps to prevent that sort of thing, but now a security firm is saying that Ukrainian hackers used the same method to get user data very recently. 
You can make yourself safer by keeping your account set to friends-only, never taking quizzes that never require you to enable an app or accept an end user license agreement, and avoiding quizzes that include personal information. 

Phishing is the practice of sending emails that appear to come from a legitimate business, but which then trick you into going to a phony website and entering personal information. In an especially cruel twist, scammers have been sending phishing emails that appear to be job offers, offers of financial help, and insurance offers. People get a job offer email from someone posing as LinkedIn, they click a link in the email, try to log in to LinkedIn, and then the scammers have full control of the victim's LinkedIn account as well as any other account that uses that password.  
If you get an email that seems to come from LinkedIn or another job search website, don't click the link in the email. Instead, open a new browser tab, and type the web address in the search bar. This allows you to be certain you're going to the correct website; if you do in fact have a message waiting, there will be a notification icon. 

Door to door
The Red Cross is tracking reports in which scammers, posing as Red Cross workers, show up at people's door claiming to be selling or giving away home COVID19 test kits. These scammers are after your money, your personal information, and may even want to rob your house. The Red Cross isn't selling test kits door-to-door, and I'm going to go out on a limb and say that no other legitimate organization is either. 
You might run across other, non-COVID door-to-door scams as well, just by virtue of being home during the day. For instance, there are scammers who dress in what looks like an energy or home security company's uniform and show up at your door with a clipboard, making it sound as if they need you to sign some routine paperwork, or claiming they can lower the price you're paying for energy. Sometimes they claim your service is about to be shut off. What you'd really be doing if you signed on the dotted line is agreeing to pay a recurring or one-time fee for essentially nothing. These scammers are like virtual quick change artists - they're really, really good at convincing you they're legit. Here's what you can do:

  • If someone claims you have to take immediate action, you can go and find your last bill from the company that provides the service in question. Use the 800 number on that bill to check whether the visitor is legitimate.
  • If you do get tricked into signing up for a service they're selling, don't worry and don't be embarrassed. These folks are very, very good at what they do. The good news is that the Federal Trade Commission gives consumers a 3-day "Cooling Off" period for sales made at your home. You just need to fill out the cancellation form that came with your paperwork (or write a cancellation letter if no cancellation form is available) and send it by certified mail within 3 days of your signing up. If problems arise, you can file a claim with the FTC, who will get it straightened out. 
When it comes to door-to-door salespeople, I think it's probably safe to assume that no legitimate business is sending their employees door to door during the shutdown  

That's not nearly all the scams that I dug up, sadly, but those seem to be the biggest ones. Just, remember to keep your eyes open and your minds skeptical, because people are horrible and the world is depressing.
But now, some good news.
Meet my weekly watch-n-weep. I am way too jaded and
cynical for these shenanigans. And yet. 

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