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The COVID-19 pandemic has provided a new hook for robocall and text scammers, many specifically targeting older Americans’ concerns about health and finances. The FCC is tracking and educating consumers about COVID-19 scam calls and texts, including those designed to defraud seniors.
The Social Security Administration posted an alert about a scam claiming that benefit payments may be suspended or decreased due to office closures related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The SSA says that any call, text or letter offering to “maintain regular benefit payments” if you make a payment is fake. If you’ve been targeted by this scam, report it to the SSA’s Office of the Inspector General.
The IRS has also issued similar warnings about coronavirus imposter scams related to stimulus checks, overdue payments, filing extensions and other tax related topics.
Fake investment opportunities and fraudulent accounts to protect your pension funds are also being touted on robocalls. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission posted a warning about fake stock offers pitching a nonexistent biotech company developing a vaccine for COVID-19. Another scam offers investment gains while protecting against losses — a coronavirus twist on a classic phony investment offer.
Older Americans should also be aware of pandemic versions of the "grandparent scam," where a scammer poses as a relative, often a grandchild, in a desperate situation and urgently in need of money. If you receive such a call requesting that you wire money or buy a gift card and call back with the gift card number, hang up and check in with family directly. To learn more, read the FCC’s consumer guide on grandparent scams.
Scam Robocalls and Texts With Spoofed Numbers
Be aware that scam calls and texts may be spoofed to appear in your caller ID as if they’re coming from a local number or an official government agency, such as the IRS or a company you’re familiar with. Scammers use these methods to get you to pick up a call or respond to a text. Statistics show that if they can get you to engage initially, the likelihood that you’ll become a victim increases exponentially.
Remember that while some scammers go straight for your wallet, others are seeking personal information they can use in subsequent scams or to sell to other bad actors.
Tips to Help You Avoid Being Scammed
The FCC offers the following tips to help you protect yourself from scams, including coronavirus scams:
- Do not respond to calls or texts from unknown numbers, or any others that appear suspicious.
- Never share your personal or financial information via email, text messages, or over the phone.
- Be cautious if you’re being pressured to share any information or make a payment immediately.
- Remember that government agencies will never call you to ask for personal information or money.
- Do not click any links in a text message. If a friend sends you a text with a suspicious link that seems out of character, call them to make sure they weren't hacked.
- Always check on a charity — for example, by calling or looking at its actual website — before donating. (Learn more about charity scams.)
- Check with your phone company about call blocking services and apps to filter out suspected spam robocalls.
If you think you've been a victim of a coronavirus scam, contact law enforcement immediately.