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Seniors Beware: COVID-19 Scammers are Targeting You!

by Vivienne Duncan, Esq. August 21, 2020

While New York City was reeling from the deadly impact of the COVID-19 crisis, scammers viewed the crisis as another opportunity to target seniors, finding new ways – or adapting old ones – to trick them into parting with their money or revealing valuable personal information. Many times, they find their victims in the same timeworn way –through unsolicited telephone calls. Here are some of the current scams that you should look out for:

A vaccine or cure for COVID-19: The caller will talk up your personal risk of contracting the virus and the potentially dire outcome, before offering you the chance to protect yourself with a vaccine or cure – for a price.

Fact: At this time, there is no known cure or vaccine available. If or when there is, it will be available through your doctor and other safe and regulated sources. Any offer that is made by a stranger in an unsolicited call, is a scam.

Decontaminating your home: The caller will try to persuade you that your home is filled with coronavirus-contaminated surfaces and offer to disinfect or ‘decontaminate’ it for you – for a price.

Fact: A legitimate cleaning company would not make this kind of random call. Hang up and do not continue with the call.

Free COVID-19 test kits: The caller offers you free test kits and then asks for your bank account details or to ‘verify’ your Social Security number. Or they offer you low-cost life or health insurance – sometimes with a COVID-19 test kit thrown in as a ‘free gift’.

Fact: No one who provides COVID-19 test kits will cold-call you to sell them to you. If you would like to be tested for the coronavirus, contact your doctor or you can attend a clinic or other testing site. Call 311 for further information.

Contact tracing: The caller claims to be a contract tracer and tells you that you may have been in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, before asking for your personal details such as your Medicare or Social Security number, or financial information.

Fact: Do not share this type of information just because the caller claims to be a contact tracer. A legitimate contact tracer would not ask you for that information.

Stimulus Checks: The scammer claims that your check may be suspended or decreased if you do not immediately ‘verify’ your bank account details.

Fact: By now, most individuals who are eligible for this payment will have received it, but some checks are still being sent out. Do not give your financial details to these callers; no government office would call you to demand information in this way.

Family emergency: You receive a call from someone claiming to be a doctor or hospital worker and then demands money for providing medical care to your relative or friend. Or the scammer may pretend to be related to you and suffering from coronavirus, before asking for your help to pay their medical bills.

Fact: Do not panic and give them any money. Hang up and call your relative or friend directly to check the story. The scammer may have learned about your relationship with that person by hacking into your, or their, social media account such as Facebook.

Although scammers have invented new tricks or ‘rebranded’ old ones to take advantage of the current situation, seniors should remain alert to the common scams that continue to circulate alongside the COVID-19-related efforts to steal your money or personal information. Remain vigilant against these persistent cons: IRS scams, Internet fraud,Sweepstakes scams, Telemarketing and phone scams.

Bottom line: Whenever you receive an unsolicited call offering to sell you a product or service, or requesting money or personal information – Hang up!  If you do need to contact a government office or to purchase an item or service, do your own research or ask a trusted friend to help you to make contact or find a reputable company, in a safe way.

If You Suspect You Have Been Scammed

If you or someone you know has been the victim of elder fraud, it is important to file a police report with your local police department. It is also a good idea to go over credit card and bank statements to check for suspicious activity. People with elderly and at-risk family members or friends can help to prevent further harm by alerting credit card companies or financial institutions of signs of fraud. Make family and friends aware of these scams.

If you or someone you know is a low-income New Yorker with questions about elder fraud, please contact our Legal Hotline by calling 212-626-7383 or by completing our online intake form.

Remember, staying educated and informed is the best way to protect against elder fraud and financial abuse.

Additional Resources

Vivienne Duncan is the Director for the Cancer Advocacy and Elderlaw Projects. 

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