Covid-19 has been tough on all of us, and seniors have had to carry a particularly heavy burden. They’re at a higher risk for contracting the virus, and many have spent months isolated from family and friends. They’re physically, emotionally and mentally vulnerable.
Unfortunately, scammers know this. More than 300 companies have been warned about trying to sell products that protect against or cure Covid-19. Other con-artists are trying to make money off seniors’ hardships by giving false information about their stimulus checks and social security. The pandemic has also added a new wrinkle to the grandparent scam.
44 attorney generals are urging Congress to pass Edith’s Bill as part of its next round of Covid-19 legislation. If approved, it would give states incentives for paying back senior citizens who are victims of fraud through the Justice Department Crime Victims Fund. As of now, the bill has not passed.
But for seniors, knowledge is power. Learning about what scams are out there empowers you to hang up on, ignore and report con-artists. To help you separate fact from fiction, we rounded up the top Covid scams targeting seniors.
False Treatments and Vaccines
Whether you’re afraid to get the virus or have it and are recovering at home, it’s understandable that you want to have treatment available to help you feel better faster. Scammers have jumped on this. One company, OrganyLife, tried pushing horse’s milk as a fast-acting treatment. The “product” made it all the way to Amazon, according to a warning letter issued by the FTC in May. In Iowa, seniors were victims of a telephone scam letting them know a vaccine was ready and they should send payment. The truth is, there’s only one FDA-approved treatment for Covid-19 at this time — remdesivir, and you have to be hospitalized to get it. There is no vaccine.
Fraudulent Stimulus Check Information
We’re not only in the middle of a health crisis but an economic one as well. Earlier this year, the federal government approved a round of stimulus checks to try to help Americans weather the storm. There were confusion and delays, and scammers took advantage of it to make money. Seniors were getting emails, regular mail and text messages saying they would get their checks faster if they gave their personal information and paid a processing fee. Neither was true — they were actually phishing schemes. It’s important to keep in mind the IRS will never ask for personal details like your social security number.
Pump-and-Dump Investment Schemes
The uncertainty surrounding Covid-19 made both the job and stock markets volatile. People, particularly in the Biotech sector, have capitalized on this and created more chaos by running pump-and-dump schemes, which involve scammers spreading false rumors to increase the company’s price, then dumping their own shares. They profit from their sales, and when the stock drops, the investors they scammed lose money. This is a list of companies that have been suspended in connection with Covid-19.
Social Security Benefits Suspended
When the pandemic hit in March, scammers got to work targeting seniors by telling them their social security benefits would be suspended. Sometimes, these schemes asked people to send personal information or money if they wanted to keep their benefits. The Social Security office never closed, the Office of Inspector General of Social Security Administration (SSA) reassured people in March.
Grandparent scams prey on seniors’ desire to help loved ones. They involve someone posing as a family member or friend and asking the senior to send money to help them get out of debt or get by. With unemployment reaching record highs, it seems more plausible than ever that a family member may be suffering. But it’s always good to verify the claim before sending any money. The FCC has more tips on dealing with these types of scams.
Madison County, Ill., seniors were the target of a phone scam this summer. A caller, who claimed to be a contact tracer, told seniors they had been exposed to Covid-19 and needed to buy a testing kit. According to the Madison County Sheriff’s Department, the scammer bullied the people on the other line, aggressively stressing the urgency of sending them money. Though contact tracers and apps will alert you to any Covid-19 exposure, they will not pressure you to purchase a testing kit but rather rather recommend you go to a local testing site.