As more and more information comes out about the COVID-19 pandemic, scams are on the rise, many targeting those concerned about finances or catching the virus.
Scams in the form of phone calls, text messages and emails have been tricking Mainers into handing over personal or financial information.
The Scarborough Police Department and the South Portland Police shared a post on April 20 on Facebook from the Thomaston Police, warning residents of a text message scam.
According to a screenshot shared by the Thomaston department, the messages tells the receiver that someone who they had come in contact with had recently tested positive for Covid-19, and the receiver is then asked to click on a link.
“Do not click the link,” said the Thomaston Facebook post. “It is not a message from any official agency. It is, however, a gateway for bad actors to find their way into your world.”
The Maine Department of Professional and Financial Regulation told Mainers that scams involving financial relief were expected to surge, asking that residents look out for phone calls and emails from anyone saying that they can provide quick access to economic impact payments.
“Unfortunately, scammers will very likely try to exploit the program to engage in ID theft and to defraud innocent people of their payments,” said Lloyd LaFountain, superintendent of the Bureau of Financial Institutions. “Everyone is reminded to remain vigilant during the current crisis and be wary of any requests for personal information.”
He said that residents should check IRS.gov for information regarding economic impact payments of up to $1,200 that the federal government had announced in March.
In order to keep scammers from accessing personal information and finances, Mainers should be careful to not click on mysterious links or links that they are unsure of, never provide personal information to emails, texts or calls, and ignore threatening IRS phone calls, as the IRS does not call citizens, said the Bureau of Financial Institutions.
“Learn to spot suspicious links in emails,” the department added. “Check the ‘From’ header in any email received — if the name of the author of the email does not match the author’s email address in the header, this is a sign of a scam. Also, hover your computer cursor over a link in your email without clicking the link itself. By doing this, the address for the link will appear on your screen. If it is different from the address the email purports to come from (a bank, or government organization), this is a sign of a scam.”
Interest group AARP recommends that residents report scams to local law enforcement.
“(L)urking in the shadows are scammers seeking to take advantage of this opportunity to steal money or sensitive personal information,” said the organization. “Know there is currently no vaccine, treatment or cure for the disease caused by the coronavirus – any claim of such is fraud. Consider products that claim they protect against coronavirus to be dubious at best. Carefully scrutinize any new investment opportunity related to a vaccine or cure. Your best bet is to stay up to date with new information and guidance through local, state and federal government sources (all government emails and websites end in ‘.gov.)’”
The company said that people can visit aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork to find out more information.
Another scam is related to the 2020 Census, according to Paula Fleming of the Boston Better Business Bureau.
“The 2020 United States Census is happening at the same time as a global pandemic, shelter-in-place orders, and government stimulus payments,” Fleming said in a press release. “With so much going on at once, scammers are using the unique circumstances to create confusion. Their goal is to get their hands on your personal information, which they then use to steal your identity.”
On April 27, the Scarborough Police Department warned residents of a Bitcoin scam, where an email is sent to the victim claiming to have the user’s passwords information, nude pictures, and will demand the victim hand over hundreds or thousands of dollars in Bitcoin.
According to an article the Scarborough Police Department shared on Facebook by Paul Ducklin, usually, the scammer does not even have the user’s private information or photographs.
While not necessarily related to the novel coronavirus, Scarborough Police said dispatchers had been receiving dozens of these types of calls.
Calling these “sextortion scams,” the Scarborough Police Department told the community not to fall for these emails.
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