Financial Focus: Watch out for scams related to virus
On one hand, the coronavirus has brought out the best in us. People across the country are pitching in to help others, from providing protective masks to health care workers to holding video chats with confined residents of assisted living homes to simply buying gift cards to support local businesses. On the other hand, a small number of bad actors are taking advantage of the situation to try to defraud people. How can you guard against these virus-related scams?
For starters, be aware of three common scams connected to the coronavirus:
Websites claiming to help and track the pandemic
Look out for websites that claim to help you work remotely or provide financial resources to the afflicted. These sites may try to trick you into giving up personal information, donate money or load malware onto your computer. Don’t trust information technology “helpdesk” agents you don’t know. And check out any obscure organization claiming to help virus victims. You can easily find many legitimate groups that actually work to alleviate suffering, and that deserve your support. To find these reputable organizations, go to an online clearinghouse, such as charitynavigator.org, which rates thousands of groups on their financial health, accountability and transparency.
Products claiming to prevent or cure the disease
When there’s a real treatment or vaccination for COVID-19, it will be big news, and you will hear about it. Until then, ignore any claims for pills, potions, prescriptions or other products that promise “miracle” cures. Not only will they waste your money, but, if you click on attachments from “phishing” emails advertising these fake treatments, you could end up supplying crooks with sensitive data, such as your online account logins, passwords, and credit card and bank account details. You can find a great deal of health information on the virus at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website (http://www.cdc.gov), of course, but if you or your loved ones are feeling ill, please contact a physician.
‘Risk-free’ or ‘guaranteed’ investments
The novel coronavirus has caused two separate, but related, areas of stress. The first is the health concern, and the second is the financial/investment component. The enormous volatility of the financial markets has caused much concern among investors, and scammers are seizing the opportunity to offer “risk-free” or “guaranteed” investments “perfect” for this particular time. Again, responding to these types of offers can bring you nothing but trouble. All investments carry risk of one type or another, and they typically don’t come with guarantees, although some do offer significant protection of principal. In these turbulent times, your best move is to stick with a long-term investment strategy based on your goals, risk tolerance and time horizon.
Here’s one more suggestion: Warn your elderly relatives about the increased potential for scams. The elderly are always the most susceptible to fraud, and now, when they may be more isolated than before, they may well be even more vulnerable. So, make sure you’re talking to these loved ones, and urge them not to make any sudden, out-of-the-ordinary financial moves.
Even in normal times, it’s regrettable that we have to be on the alert for scam artists — and it’s even more unfortunate during a period of national crisis. However, by being reasonably vigilant, and by taking the proper precautions, you can avoid taking on the “collateral damage” that can occur in this environment.