Alexander García-Tobar has spent over two decades in the email and security business and is the CEO and co-founder of Valimail.García-Tobar’s company stops phishing attacks by validating an email sender’s identity to ensure only trusted senders get into your inbox. He delivered his top advice for deflecting online scams and hackers during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
Get all the latest news on coronavirus and more delivered daily to your inbox. Sign up here.
The coronavirus pandemic has led to scammers exploiting new fears, and authorities say many targets of these schemes are senior citizens.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, the elderly are more likely to be scammed — and scammed out of more money — than younger people. In Florida, more than 24 percent of the population are senior citizens, making the Sunshine State a hub for fraudsters and scam artists.
“Don’t ever respond to e-mails, texts, or robocalls with financial information,” says Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, who is actively educating residents about scams relating to COVID-19. “No one from the federal government will reach out in this way.”
In addition to online and phone scams, con artists are even taking an in-person approach to duping Americans.
“People are coming to doors in lab coats claiming to be [from] the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention],” says Moody. “You won’t have representatives from the CDC or a doctor’s office show up unsolicited. Don’t let them in. Call and report with law enforcement.”
Pandemic hoaxes are not much different than the traditional scams consumers may encounter online or by phone, according to Kathy Stokes, director of Fraud Prevention Programs at American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).
“Scammers follow the headlines,” says Stokes. She explained that many of the scams take the form of robocalls or text messages, but one particular con to look out for is the emergence of fake coronavirus testing sites.
In Kentucky, fake testing centers were set up as part of a Medicaid fraud operation. The goal of the scammers was to collect a so-called "testing fee" of around $240 as well as cash in on fake Medicaid claims, Metro Council President David James told Louisville station WDRB.
Stokes says scammers target the elderly because they are presumed to have more money in the form of savings and pensions.
The scams targeting Americans at a time of economic uncertainty are coming from both foreign and domestic sources alike and Stokes recommends reporting all incidents to law enforcement.
In addition to advice from Moody and Stokes, the FTC advises Americans to “ignore online offers for vaccinations and home test kits” as well as be informed before donating money to any organization.