As cases of coronavirus-related fraud are on the rise, consumer watchdogs and law enforcement are offering tips to avoid becoming a victim.
“Scammers will begin perpetrating schemes that require little or no advance planning and minimal sophistication,” Attorney General Alan Wilson said. “Most will simply be old scams dressed in contemporary clothing.”
Authorities are promoting skepticism.
The S.C. Attorney General’s Securities Division warned investors to be on the lookout for fraudulent investment opportunities specifically tied to COVID-19, like those raising capital for companies manufacturing surgical masks and gowns, ventilators, pharmaceuticals, vaccines and cures. The schemes often appear legitimate because they draw upon current news and medical reports.
Wilson said scammers often tout “safe” investments with “guaranteed returns,” including investments tied to gold, silver, oil and gas, and real estate. They also target retirees, falsely claiming they can recoup any losses to their retirement portfolios.
The Federal Trade Commission reported that through March 31, Americans filed complaints about losses to coronavirus-related fraud totaling nearly $6 million.
The Food and Drug Administration has issued warning letters to more than 15 companies selling unproven treatments or tests.
Kathy Stokes, head of AARP's fraud prevention program, noted "a significant uptick in reports" to its fraud watch network, the Associated Press reported. And the Better Business Bureau, which offers anti-scam tips, is getting so many virus-related fraud reports that it started a COVID-19 category on its scam tracker.
Some more tips:
- Ask questions and research the investment and person offering it. Information can be confirmed by the state Securities Division by calling 803-734-9916.
- Avoid fraudulent charity schemes. Criminals may pose as charities soliciting money for those affected by COVID-19. The South Carolina Secretary of State has guidance on informed charitable giving on its website.
- Be wary of schemes tied to government assistance or economic relief. The federal government is scheduled to directly deposit payments or send checks as part of an economic stimulus effort. Those do not require the prepayment of fees or any other type of charge.
- Don’t give out personal information. Government officials already have your information. No federal or state agency will call and ask for personal information. Agencies contact people by mail, not by phone, text, social media or email.
- Question email and text requests that seem to be from friends or relatives, asking you to buy gift cards from a third party promising to forward the cards to them, the Associated Press says.
To file a complaint with the state Attorney Gerneral’s office regarding a product or the people selling them, go to www.scag.gov/registering-a-complaint.