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With COVID-19 comes scams – let the buyer beware!

By Jim Tripp | Office of the Staff Judge Advocate, U.S. Army North (Fifth Army) and Army Support Activity | April 7, 2020

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas —

In addition to disrupting daily life, COVID-19 has created opportunities for criminals to try and scam innocent or unsuspecting people.

Playing on our fears about the disease and the economy in general, scammers are trying to sell things like fake medical treatments and equipment using ads on social media, unsolicited text messages and robocalls.

Agencies like the Federal Trade Commission are working to stop scams, but the best defense is to be informed and to take some common-sense precautions. Preventing a scam is much easier than being a victim of a scam in the first place.

● Remember that up-to-date information about the actual status of COVID-19 is available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization – both of which have publicly accessible websites (www.cdc.gov and www.who.int). Be wary of information that comes from a company trying to sell you a product that claims to have “insider information” on the virus.

● Hang up as soon as possible on robocalls that seek to sell medical treatments or equipment. At present, there are no vaccines, pills, lotions, lozenges or other prescription or over-the-counter products available to treat or cure COVID-19. The same goes for home test kits – none have been authorized by the Food and Drug Administration. Always check the FDA’s website (www.fda.gov) or contact a health care provider before making any medical purchases for treatment or equipment advertised as ways to cure or treat CIVID-19.

● Do some research before making donations to charities or crowdfunding sites. Don’t let anyone rush you into making a donation. Never make donations in cash, by gift card, or by wiring money.

● Beware of scams related to the economy, which may include ads for loan forgiveness, financial assistance, work-at-home schemes, and get-rich-quick offers. If you receive information for a “secret” or “one day only” sale of stock in corporations that may do well in a disaster, such as those that make toilet paper, bleach, or rubbing alcohol, it is probably a scam. A call to your bank or financial advisor or a simple internet search will often lead to a legitimate website that exposes the scam.

● Never give your bank account information to anyone over the phone or social media! Scam artists will use your account information in a never-ending variety of ways to pretend to be you and withdraw money from your account. Such transfers are very difficult to trace and almost impossible to recover. If an offer looks too good to be true, it probably is.

If you receive an offer for something that looks suspicious, talk to your healthcare provider, bank or financial advisor, a trusted friend or family member, someone in your chain of command, or a legal assistance attorney. When it comes to avoiding scams, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!