Coping with the fight against Covid-19 wears us all down. In addition to the public health crisis, those in the arts must deal with cancelled and postponed performances, moving from in-person staging to online video feeds, and reduced sales of books, albums, and videos as those who ordinarily would buy from us struggle to even pay their bills. And then we have our own struggles with finances to contend with.
All of this added stress leaves even the most worldly, wise, and aware among us more susceptible to scams. We are particularly vulnerable to scams that prey on our desire to get rid of Covid-19 and return to our normal lives, and those that take advantage of the loneliness we feel. Scammers are well aware of this, and plan their scams accordingly. Keep your guard up against these latest Covid-19 related hoaxes.
Get the Covid-19 vaccine early scam
We all understand the importance of vaccinating the most vulnerable members of our population first. Those in the healthcare field should be vaccinated first, as they are the most likely to be exposed to Covid-19. Since the most severe, and often the deadliest, clusters have been in nursing homes and other assisted living environments, residents and staff should of course be vaccinated before less vulnerable populations. But we all wish the whole process could speed up a bit, and everyone could get vaccinated right away.
Scammers play on this wish by offering you the opportunity to get the vaccine early, for a fee. You may see an ad on social media claiming a private company or group has the vaccine for sale. Or you may get a text, call, email, or other message offering you the opportunity to receive the vaccine ahead of schedule, or to be put on a list to receive it ahead of schedule, for a small fee.
Never respond to any of these offers. There is no way to get the vaccine early, no matter how much money you pay or who you pay it to. True, accurate and free information about the Covid-19 vaccine in our community and who will be vaccinated next can be found through state and local departments of public health.
The “grandparents” scam
The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) has been warning of this scam for several years, but it is increasingly popular among scammers today, as Covid-19 prevention efforts lead to longer and longer periods of solitude for people who normally see adult children and grandchildren regularly. The scam can be run on anyone who shares information about their family and friends on social media, but it is called the “grandparents” scam because the most common targets are grandparents, with the scammer posing as one of their grandchildren.
To run this hoax, the scammer first scours Facebook, Instagram, and other social media accounts looking for phone numbers and the names of grandchildren. Next, the scammer phones the target pretending to be the grandchild. They may use software that makes it look like the call is coming from the grandchild’s phone, or pretend to be borrowing someone else’s phone because theirs is lost or damaged. The scammer, posing as the grandchild, claims to be in some kind of trouble. They may say they are in jail, lost, or in need of money to pay a bill or a fine. If the grandparent notices that the person on the phone’s voice does not sound like the grandchild they claim to be, a bad connection, illness, stress, or background noise is blamed. The scammer may also call claiming to be the grandchild’s lawyer or other authority figure, making the request on their behalf.
Once the grandparent agrees to send the money to help, they are instructed to purchase a gift card and call back with the code, wire money, send money via an online app, share account information, or send cash in the mail. This money goes to the scammer, with the real grandchild completely unaware the call was ever made, and the grandparent tricked out of their money.
Anyone who receives a call from a grandchild or other loved one asking for money should immediately hang up and contact the person through a known and trusted method. Should the phone call turn out to be genuine, the real loved one will understand.
Help getting your second stimulus payment scam
Many of us could really use that $600 currently scheduled to arrive in our checking or savings accounts, but not everyone has gotten their payment yet. Those who have fallen behind on bills are especially anxious, but even those of us who have been able to manage financially are feeling the strain of increasing grocery bills as children and spouses who used to be out of the house all day are now eating all their lunches and snacks at home, higher electric bills as everyone is working from home all day, and other unanticipated expenses related to preventing the spread of Covid-19.
This anxiety leaves us open to scammers posing as government agents offering to help get our stimulus payment to us right away, for a small processing fee. The scammer calls, emails, texts, or messages the target on social media, posing as someone from the government and making the offer. Once the person is convinced they are speaking to someone from the government, the scammer then asks for the potential victim’s banking information in order to process the payment.
In reality, tax information already on file with the IRS is used to process and deposit the stimulus payments, and there is never a fee. Hang up on, or delete and block, anyone who claims you need to pay to process your stimulus payment.
Most of us see ourselves as too smart, sophisticated, or careful to fall for scams like these. But anyone can have a moment of weakness brought on by stress, fatigue, or illness. Most scammers practice their scams the way we practice writing or singing or playing the guitar, and are experts at playing on our vulnerabilities and emotions. And even if you are one who can see through any scammer that comes your way, keep these scams in mind to help protect loved ones who may be more vulnerable.