The Wuhan coronavirus is doing a lot of damage not just to those afflicted and their families, but to our economy.  As is typical in the face of crisis, the unscrupulous are eager to take advantage.  We’re hearing the “usual” reports of price-gouging and even horror stories about some landlords soliciting sex in exchange for rent.

There have also been in recent weeks a flurry of warnings issued by Wall Street regulators, governors, the FBI, the IRS, and other officials about a range of scams and fraud being perpetrated across our country.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, Americans have lost $13.4 million to coronavirus-related scams since the beginning of this year alone.

CNBC reports:

Americans have lost $13.4 million to coronavirus-related fraud since the beginning of the year, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

The figure is based on 18,235 reports related to Covid-19 that the agency has received from consumers since Jan. 1, according to a blog post published Wednesday by Paul Witt, lead data analyst in the FTC’s Division of Consumer Response and Operations.

Because not all consumers may have reported fraud to the agency, the true dollar figure could be much higher.

The top complaint categories for Covid-19 scams are related to travel and vacations, online shopping, bogus text messages and imposter scams, whereby the con artist pretends to be someone they’re not, according to Witt.

Additionally, the IRS has also warned that scammers are attempting to steal stimulus checks, apparently in a range of creative and dastardly ways.

The IRS recently warned of scammers trying to steal the stimulus checks it’s sending Americans to help them weather the economic repercussions of Covid-19.

The agency started depositing those one-time payments — up to $1,200 per individual, $2,400 per couple and $500 extra per eligible dependent, depending on income levels — into people’s bank accounts over the past several days. Paper checks will arrive in May.

“We’ve spotted plenty of bogus cures and treatments, but many of you have told the FTC about straight-up scams, like texts/emails/calls from a ‘government agency’ promising to get your relief money for you,” Witt wrote.

. . . . If you’re getting calls, emails or texts related to the coronavirus, or seeing related ads or offers online, here are some things to remember, according to Witt:

  • The government will never call to ask for money or your personal information like Social Security, bank account or credit card numbers.
  • Anyone who tells you to pay by Western Union or Money Gram, or by putting money on a gift card, is a scammer. The government and legitimate businesses will never tell you to pay with those methods.

According to NPR, top Wall Street regulators are also warning about investment scams related to the Wuhan coronavirus.

The kind of financial schemes depicted in movies like The Wolf Of Wall Street and Boiler Room never went away, and Wall Street’s top cops are warning investors that the coronavirus has only created new opportunities for that type of financial fraud.

In response, the Securities And Exchange Commission has “substantially accelerated” its pace of enforcement related to the pandemic, says Stephanie Avakian, who co-directs the SEC’s enforcement division.

Since February, the SEC has temporarily suspended public trading of at least 16 companies’ stocks. In particular, the agency has cited concerns with companies’ public statements about supposed test kits, vaccines or treatments for COVID-19.

. . . . Nearly all of the SEC’s actions have focused on “microcap” stocks — commonly known as “penny stocks” because the company’s shares are often worth only a few cents.

When companies are this small, Peikin says, it’s easier for bad actors to quickly inflate (or “pump”) the share price by luring in investors with misinformation, and then, once the price is high enough, sell (or “dump”).

People might assume that the days of financial con-men cold calling gullible investors to buy penny stocks are long gone. In fact, the boiler room has simply shifted to the internet message boards.

“You don’t have to rent an office and hire a bunch of people to sit in a room and make cold calls,” says Peikin, “when you can reach many many more times that number of people through social media.”

So the SEC is telling Americans to be extra cautious when investing in companies making bold claims about coronavirus-related products.

“The old adage remains as true today as it ever has been,” says Avakian, “if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.”

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron warned people about new healthcare scams regarding coronavirus and Medicaid.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, scammers may target Medicaid beneficiaries in order to illegally bill the Medicaid program for unnecessary services and equipment related to coronavirus testing and treatment,” said Attorney General Cameron. “Our Office of Medicaid Fraud and Abuse is committed to protecting the health and well-being of beneficiaries by stopping scammers who abuse the Medicaid program. We encourage anyone who believes they have been a victim of Medicaid fraud during the COVID-19 pandemic to immediately contact our Medicaid Fraud and Abuse Hotline at 1-877-ABUSE TIP.”

Cameron said entities may solicit Medicaid beneficiaries for fraudulant COVID-19 testing. They may claim to require a Respiratory Pathogen Panel Test along with the COVID-19 test. It’s not required, but it allows the organization to bill medicaid at a higher rate. Also, sites that use this scheme don’t even process the tests, according to Cameron

To defend against this, Cameron advises to only use approved testing sites and to use the Commonwealth’s COVID-19 website to get the information you need.

Scammers may also call or text people on medicaid offering free tests in exchange for personal information. Cameron’s office said to be suspicios of unexpected calls related to COVID-19 and to never provide personal information to anyone other than a trusted source.

The FBI is also warning about a rise in healthcare-related scams and fraud. There are also a lot fake charities soliciting money or phony debt collectors, persons posing as officials to help with small businesses, etc.

Scammers are also deploying realistic-looking email, dark web, and other internet scams, as well.

Scammers are also sending text messages. For example, police in Maine are warning about a text message containing a link and urging recipients to not click on the link under any circumstances.

https://www.facebook.com/ThomastonPolice/photos/a.2194399874178354/2619542668330737/?type=3&amp%3Btheater

The New York Post reports:

Cops in the Maine port town of Thomaston have posted a photo on their Facebook page of a text message sent from an Indiana area code warning the recipient that they need to self-isolate — along with a phony link.

“Someone who came in contact with you has tested positive or has shown symptoms for COVID-19 & recommends you self-isolate/get-tested,” the text message reads.

The alert is not from an official agency and officers from the department have told residents not to click through to the link, which police believe could be a phishing scam to grab victims’ personal information

“If you receive a text message like the one pictured, DO NOT click the link!” the department wrote on Facebook earlier this week. “It is not a message from any official agency. It is however a gateway for bad actors to find their way into your world.”

“The virus is not the only invisible enemy,” police said. “Be vigilant against all threats!”

Being “vigilant against all threats” is good advice given how wide-ranging the scams are and how easy it might be to fall victim.

[Featured image via YouTube]

 

 
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