Spike in scams during pandemic: Here’s what to look out for

Coronavirus

(WSYR-TV) — Don’t click and hang up. That advice from watchdog groups and local police, who are reporting a surge of complaints about people who are being targeted who fear catching the coronavirus or need money because of lost income.

Scammers are calling, emailing and texting.

Alicia and Art Coles, like so many others, have had their lives turned upside down by COVID-19. Their small business that provides office furniture installation has cratered.

The Coles went online to sign up for the government’s emergency loan program. Then, a phishing attempt happened that was aimed at stealing their identity.

According to the FBI’s Financial Crimes section, thousands of complaints are pouring in. Syracuse Police are seeing them too.

Difficult times, we’re under a lot of emotion. And when we’re desperate for money so we can buy groceries and we’re waiting for stimulus checks, or something sounds too good to be true, you have to take five seconds. Take a deep breath and this is what I always do, ask yourself, ‘Am I being scammed?’

Sgt. Matt Malinowski

Scammers are getting creative. One website claims to be able to track individuals with COVID-19 around you. Once installed, it shuts down your phone and demands a ransom payment.

A good rule of thumb? Before you act, ask yourself, does this sound right?

“If you’re paying your National Grid bill with gift cards from a gas station, that doesn’t sound right,” said Malinowski.

Criminals are pitching everything from low-priced health insurance to work-at-home schemes. And they are using spoof calls to mask their identity, changing the number displayed on a Caller ID.

If you take an incoming call, it can literally be anybody. I can call from the PD main line on my cellphone and spoof the number.

Sgt. Matt Malinowski

And if you’re still not sure it’s a scam?

“You can run a scam by me or any one of my staff and we will let you know,” said Malinowski. “It doesn’t sound right and we will call the people for you and mess with them on our end.

Here are a few do’s and don’ts that you should keep in mind:

  • Don’t respond to texts, emails or calls about checks from the government
  • Don’t share personal information like Social Security numbers
  • Do ignore online offers for vaccinations and home test kits
  • Do hang up on robocalls
  • Do your homework when it comes to donations

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