As if the health risks of COVID-19 weren’t enough, robocall scammers are seizing on the chaos and confusion to fleece Americans out of their personal information and money. Nearly 5,000 coronavirus-related scams have been reported to the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Sentinel Network through May 18 – costing Americans more than $35 million in losses to these frauds.
For consumers to avoid falling victim, this means staying vigilant and aware of the most frequently used scams. At Transaction Network Services (TNS) we analyze data from more than one billion daily call events, from small rural operators to the largest multi-national carriers, and have identified several robocall and robotext scams to watch out for right now:
A new and sophisticated COVID-19 robotext scam lures smartphone users to a realistic-looking IRS web page where they are prompted to answer personal information to receive their stimulus check. Once the victim enters all the personal information, they are then redirected to the real IRS website to make the scam look less suspicious. This is just the latest of many coronavirus stimulus scams; it is important to remember that you would not receive a call or text requesting personal information – or money – to receive a government stimulus check.
Scammers have wasted no time peddling questionable products that claim to help diagnose, treat, cure and even prevent COVID-19 – the majority of which have not been properly evaluated by the FDA for safety and effectiveness and may pose a significant health risk to consumers. The FDA reminds Americans:
- Be suspicious of products that claim to treat a wide range of diseases.
- Personal testimonials are no substitute for scientific evidence.
- Few diseases or conditions can be treated quickly, so be suspicious of any “quick fix.”
- If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
- “Miracle cures,” which claim scientific breakthroughs or contain secret ingredients, are likely a hoax.
- Know that you can’t test yourself for coronavirus disease.
Test kits, masks & PPE
COVID-19 scams work because the products Americans want the most (test kits, masks, gloves) are in short supply and there is a lack of pricing clarity on what these items should cost. In March, TNS’ own analysis tracked a 3M scam circulating with tens of thousands of calls – primarily to Los Angeles phone numbers – offering a coronavirus safety and medical kit. Consumers should never click on links or provide information over the phone for these items that come from unknown numbers and that cannot be fully vetted.
Scams targeting seniors
Because COVID-19 is impacting older Americans so profoundly, scammers are using that fear with targeted robocalls and robotexts. TNS’ 2020 survey found that 89% of seniors receive at least one robocall per week, while more than half (56%) receive at least seven robocalls per week. And despite the fact that 45% of seniors received a healthcare-related scam call, only 21% reported that they received information from their healthcare provider on robocall scams – problematic as older Americans are vulnerable to health scams such as those that have emerged around the coronavirus pandemic.
Student loan forgiveness
Scammers are targeting college students with scams promising student loan forgiveness given that in-person learning ended prematurely this school year. There is no blueprint for the interruption to college on-campus learning caused by the coronavirus, and scammers are using that confusion to their advantage. Students and their parents should keep in mind that student loan forgiveness is not offered over the phone, is rarely granted and requires an application from the student.
Americans are reporting harassing calls from someone attempting to sell them health insurance while phishing for their personal information. Scammers are also making robocalls claiming to be from a hospital in order to try to sell you insurance. To avoid falling victim, only make insurance decisions with your provider, and do not provide personal information to unverified calls claiming to offer insurance.
As unemployment rises, scammers have put a new spin on the classic job offer call. One spin making the rounds claims to offer a program for aspiring nurses, directing victims to a website offering “courses” for a fee to become a registered nurse. Reminder: Be wary of schools soliciting payment on their website.
Political primary delays
TNS data has tracked massive increases in robocall volume (by 200-600%) leading up to Democratic state primaries that have taken place the past few months, suggesting robocallers are using voter confusion around primary date postponements due to coronavirus as an opportunity. One robocall scam involved a San Antonio-based number making over 75,000 calls during a condensed period of time leading up to the Texas primary. Consumers should be wary of robocalls with unsubstantiated information on voting date changes, or those soliciting donations to political causes and campaigns.
Impacted industry scams
Crowdsourced feedback on scams purporting to offer free or discounted cruises and hotel accommodations lead consumers to believe that struggling industries like these are trying to woo customers back with aggressive promotions. This is a new spin on the classic vacation package deal robocall. As with many other offers over the phone, if the offer seems too good to be true, it usually is.
No such thing as a free lunch, or phone
If robocalls and robotexts suggesting you are eligible for free or discounted phones, Netflix subscriptions and other services due to the coronavirus pandemic sound too good to be true, it’s because they are. Avoid clicking on links making promises. These scams can come in the form of emails or text messages and typically prompt you to click on a link attached to the message. Like other scams, knowing not to click the link provided and reporting the scam can help you avoid giving any personal information to scammers.
Scammers will continue to adapt methods and tactics to evade detection and oversight. Consumers should remain skeptical about calls, texts and emails that don’t pass the smell test, and you can keep track of evolving scams and data by visiting the TNS Scam of the Month site.
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