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The COVID-19 pandemic has spurred a surge in charitable giving, with many high-profile events capturing the public’s attention. The iHeart Radio Living Room Concert for America, hosted by Elton John on March 29, 2020, was one such occasion: It brought in $10 million in donations and was watched by nearly 9 million viewers across the FOX family of networks. Some musicians, such as Alice Merton, have also pledged to give away 100% of merchandise sales to charities that support COVID-19 relief.
However, for every legitimate charity operation related to COVID-19, there are many scams out there, designed to siphon off money and possibly jeopardize your personal cybersecurity, too. How can you separate the worthwhile charities from the ones designed to just make a quick buck?
What COVID-19 scams look liked
The Federal Trade Commission has issued significant guidance on how to identify scams related to COVID-19. Some examples of these schemes include:
Such charities have always been around, but they become especially prominent in the wake of major disasters. The tell-tale signs that a charity is illegitimate are:
- Immense pressure to give right now: Watch out for aggressive language, typos and general urgency in any communications from a purported charity.
- Requests that you donate via wire transfer/bank account: There are fewer consumer protections (e.g., charge reversal) for funds sent this way than ones transferred via credit card.
- Thank you notes: Did you receive an email thanking you for a gift you don’t recall giving? You’re not going insane – it’s a common tactic for misleading you and trying to get you to donate to a scam.
Fake online orders
Certain products such as hand sanitizer, toilet paper and nitrile gloves have been in short supply – both at retail outlets and online – ever since the novel coronavirus outbreak began. Predictably, some scammers have taken to pretending they have access to these in-demand goods and are taking online orders for them.
Before buying anything from a new seller, do some due diligence. Are there any reviews of their operations? Does their site use HTTPS encryption? If you must buy without knowing the full story, always use a credit card: It’s much easier to reverse a credit charge than a debit one, and the credit card issuer may actually spare you a lot of pain by blocking a charge to an unknown or suspicious merchant.
As COVID-19 testing and tracing ramps up, so have phishing scams that try to tell people that they’ve been in contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus. This story from Miami exemplifies the trend, with someone getting an SMS text saying they had been exposed to the virus, and then urging them to follow a link.
Don’t fall for these unsolicited communications. Only act on advice from medical or government authorities when it comes to managing your risk of exposure to COVID-19.
Social Security Administration calls
With many people now depending on safety net benefits such as Social Security and unemployment insurance, scammers have adapted accordingly. For example, they may pretend to be from the Social Security Administration (SSA) and have their caller ID configured to look that way, too.
On the call, they may say that your Social Security number is about to be suspended or ask you to verify your full number. These threats should be ignored, as the actual SSA won’t ever ask you to take these actions.
Stay Safe Out There
Avoiding these scams is mostly a matter of exercising restraint – if in doubt, don’t give or act. You can also protect yourself in other ways with antivirus software and additional security measures that preserve your privacy. Learn more by visiting the Total Defense products page today.