Early,Custom

Unmask COVID-19 Scams to Protect Your Money and Identity

Warning: Con artists have launched all sorts of COVID-19-related schemes to cheat consumers out of their money and steal their identities.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports that from January through May 25, it has received 54,813 coronavirus-related consumer complaints, with 83% of them dealing with fraud and identity theft. Money lost so far to fraud totals more than $40 million, the FTC says.

Many hoaxes prey on the need for authentic government and public health information by impersonating official sources. Protect yourself by staying alert to these tricks:

Fake cures. The FTC has sent more than 120 warning letters to marketers falsely claiming miracle cures and treatments. Among the products: ozone and UV light therapies; bio-electric shields; high doses of vitamin C; acupuncture; and a music CD with a frequency that repels the virus. "If there's a medical breakthrough, you're not going to hear about it for the first time through an ad or sales pitch," the FTC says.

Bogus COVID-19 testing sites. They look real, with signs, tents, and hazmat suits, the FTC says. But con artists at these sites collect Social Security and credit card numbers as well as other personal information so they can steal identities. If you need testing, get a referral to an approved site from your doctor.

Phishing schemes. Fraudsters send emails and texts that appear to be from legitimate health care organizations offering coronavirus information in an attachment, says the Secret Service. When recipients open the attachment, malware infects their computer and their passwords, bank account, and other personal information can be stolen. Don't open any attachment if you don't recognize the sender, the Secret Service says.

Stimulus money scam. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) warns of social media posts directing people to what looks like a government site asking for their bank account information so their stimulus checks can be processed. One Facebook post tells older consumers they may qualify for a government grant to pay medical bills but must provide their Social Security number to verify their eligibility. These fakes end up stealing your money and your identity, the BBB says. The truth: The government doesn't communicate to consumers via social media.

Non-delivery scams. Masks and hand sanitizers remain in demand, leading to phony medical-supply sellers that require upfront payment but never deliver the goods. Only buy from reputable retailers and websites, the BBB advises.

Stay on top of the latest consumer scams by checking www.ftc.gov/coronavirus/scams and www.bbb.org/scamtracker.

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