Times like these can bring out the best in some and the worst in others. Here’s how to sniff out a scam amid the COVID-19 crisis.
In times like this where everyone already feels vulnerable — it’s unfortunate that assholes out there have to go and make things worse and try to scam you out of your money. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), they’ve received 18,235 fraud reports that have accumulated to $13.44 million dollars lost to fraud since January 1st. As one of the industries hardest hit by the COVID-19 Stay at Home orders, restaurant businesses and workers need to be extra cautious of fraudulent activity.
Here are types of scams happening right now, how to sniff out a scam, and what to do if you come across one.
Common COVID-19 Scams
For restaurant owners and workers who are filing for unemployment, applying for loans or relief funds — It’s important to be aware of common scams circulating right now. The Federal Bureau of Investigation claims they are seeing an increase in government impersonations. In a FAQ article on their government site, the FBI state, “Criminals are reaching out to people through social media, emails, or phone calls pretending to be from the government.” For some restaurants, this type of fraud has come in the form of the Health Department claiming restaurants must pay a fine for COVID-19 violations.
Another common scam popping up amid the COVID-19 crisis are phony charities. While this type of fraud more commonly targets people giving to charity rather than receiving from it, it’s good to be aware of this type of scam as there are a few relief funds circulating for restaurant workers. Be extremely cautious giving any financial information over the phone, and if anything sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
How to tell it’s a scam
Scams come in all forms: mail, phone, email and in person. The goal is to get your personal information such as social security number or any financial information. Key characteristics of a scammer are that they tend to be vague, pushy and threatening.
The FTC lays out some tips to recognize a phone scam, but these can be applied to all other forms of communication. First, the government will never randomly call you seeking sensitive information or immediate payment — and you won’t go to jail if you don’t hand over the dough right then and there. The FTC states, “The goal is to scare you into paying. But real law enforcement and federal agencies won’t call and threaten you.” You should also be concerned if you are asked to pay in an unusual way like through gift cards, Western Union or cash.
If you are being offered something, like a grant or relief money when you never applied, you should definitely be cautious and do research before giving any financial information. The FTC advises, “Most legitimate businesses will give you time to think their offer over and get written information about it before asking you to commit. Take your time. Don’t get pressured into making a decision on the spot.” For things like charities, the FTC provides some avenues to research the legitimacy of an organization here.
What to do if you come across a scam
If you received an email, text message, or social media message that seems like a scam — don’t respond, don’t click any links and definitely don’t open any attachments. If it’s a phone call, screen unknown numbers (people who have legitimate business with you hopefully will leave a message) or hang up immediately upon recognizing the scam.
You should report all instances of being scammed, especially if you were duped into handing over sensitive information. Make sure to gather all the information available to you including: emails, phone numbers, receipts and business names to help make filing your report easier and more thorough. The USA government site states that you should start by reporting fraud to your state consumer protection office. They also suggest reporting to the federal government, and that the FTC is the main agency to handle cases of common fraud. You can begin a report through their FTC complaint assistant.
Reporting scams is extremely important in gaining awareness so that others don’t fall for the trap. The FTC has created a social media friendly Bingo sheet to help create awareness and share common scams circulating. You can also sign up for Consumer Alerts to stay up to date on common schemes happening around the nation. Generally, a good rule of thumb is to stay cautious in times like these — don’t give out any personal information or financial information unless you are certain of the legitimacy of the person you are in communication with.