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Scam-Spotting for Seniors in the COVID-19 Era

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Scam-Spotting for Seniors in the COVID-19 Era

Crises like the current global COVID-19 pandemic bring out both the best and the worst in human nature. In the latter column, unfortunately, we've seen a rise in scam activity trying to take advantage of the difficult circumstances created by the virus. Some of the most insidious schemes are specifically targeted at seniors, and for residents of The Gardens at Barry Road assisted living community, a little vigilance will go a long way.

Keep in mind that the world of the scam artist is always in motion; they’re in a constant "arms race" against the efforts of law enforcement and ordinary citizens to counter dishonest activity. No list of potential scams can be called truly comprehensive. The scams listed below, however, are currently some of the most common.

1. Fake Coronavirus "Cures" or Treatments

Fraudulent and unscientific "cures" and medicines aren't new, but they pose a particular danger for seniors already at high risk from COVID-19. Fake treatments can cause active harm or lead people to needlessly expose themselves to the virus through a false sense of security.

Spotting the Scam: The main thing to keep in mind when you hear a claim about a supposed drug treatment or cure for the virus is that no reputable source has confirmed the existence of any such thing. Isolation and social distancing are to date the only sure countermeasures against the virus. Anyone who contacts you or otherwise tries to sell you on the premise of some cure, treatment or preventative measure for the disease is, quite simply, trying to scam you.

You should always work with your trusted and known medical providers when considering treatments for any kind of condition.

2. Phishing Scams

A phishing scam is an attempt by a scammer to contact someone by email, text or phone and pose as an agent of some recognizable and legitimate institution in order to get them to give up sensitive personal information. That information can then be used by the scammer to steal someone’s identity, access accounts or abuse credit and ultimately create serious financial havoc for the victim.

Phishing isn't new to the pandemic era, of course, but COVID-19 has produced some specific new forms of this kind of scam:

  • Calls or emails pretending to be from the government and offering extra "protection" for Medicare and Social Security numbers, or trying to trick you into opening malicious links
  • Communications pretending to come from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization, either soliciting donations or offering fake lists of infected people in your neighborhood
  • Callers claiming to be from the IRS asking for your financial information to arrange direct deposit of a stimulus check
  • Communications from your health insurance provider falsely claiming you've tested positive for COVID-19 and trying to trick you into handing over your credit card or other information for a prescription

What all of these scams have in common is that they always culminate in attempts to get the victim to hand over sensitive financial information directly or attempts to get them to click on a link that loads malware onto their computer.

Spotting the Scam: One simple way to spot a phishing scam is to note patterns of communication that an institution wouldn't normally engage in. The government doesn't call people to verify their Medicare and Social Security numbers, and the IRS doesn't need to request information from people to deposit their stimulus checks. The CDC and the WHO don't solicit donations by phone or email, and there would be serious ethical and legal prohibitions against giving out lists of infected people even if they had the means of compiling them. Real insurance providers should never need to contact you to get sensitive personal information much less make implausible claims about selling you COVID-19 "prescriptions."

If you're sensing something off about an interaction with someone claiming to be representing an institution, your best bet is to terminate the contact immediately and reach out to law enforcement or to the institution directly. Also, never click a link in an email from a source you haven't verified.

3. "Grandparent Scam," COVID-19 Edition

An old scam used to target seniors is an imposter con called the "grandparent scam," in which the criminal contacts an older person and pretends to be a relative in distress who needs money right away. This scam — according to the FTC — is one of the most effective scams targeting seniors. It now has a COVID-19 variant in which the scammer pretends to have the virus and need cash for medical expenses.

Spotting the Scam: The simplest means of combating this scam is to simply hang up when receiving a call like this one. You can then phone the supposedly distressed family member directly to determine whether the situation is real.

Scam artists are always looking for new ways to part people from their money. Protect your hard-earned savings from some of the common tactics above with alertness and common sense so that you can enjoy life in the assisted living community without undue stress.

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