You would think that the stress and the tragedy going on around the world now would prompt scammers to take a break from trying to dupe people. In fact, it’s the opposite. Scammers are using the COVID-19 pandemic to find new ways to convince people to part with their hard-earned money.
Scammers are using several types of fraudulent calls to action related to the pandemic, including:
- Work-from-home opportunities that may prompt you to make an investment first.
- Solicitations to give money to a fake charity.
- Phony offerings to move ahead in the COVID-19 vaccine line.
- Romance scams that prey upon a person’s loneliness and vulnerability.
- Offerings to get you a stimulus check or a loan quickly.
- Notices that say a family member is in trouble and needs money right away.
Just how are scammers making smart people fall victim for these scams and other? There are a few common psychological tactics they are using. Read on for more details.
5 Psychological and Fear Tactics Used by COVID-19 Scammers
1. They’ll capitalize on your fears.
It’s a scary time right now, and scammers know it. They may play upon your anxiety to try and convince you to buy into what they are offering, such as fraudulent COVID-19 tests or work-from-home offers, for instance.
2. They want you to help a loved one who’s in trouble.
You may have heard before of scams that involve calling an older adult to say a grandchild or other family member is in trouble and needs money immediately. In the current twist on this, the scammers will actually come to your house, feeling more protected as they can shield most of their face with a face mask, according to a CBS News story. These scammers have often done their research and have used social media in advance to know a few details about the person who is supposedly in trouble, to sound more legit. The scammers may even collaborate with someone who says they are a doctor, lawyer, or law enforcement agent to back up their story. A few tactics if this happens to you:
- Call the family member’s cell phone, or get in touch with someone who can reach them to confirm their whereabouts.
- Notify law enforcement as soon as they leave.
3. They will sound official.
We are all looking for reliable information right now, and scammers will say they are from a well-known government organization (such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), according to the AARP. Or, they’ll make up an official-sounding organization. This is likely done to try and dupe you into believing what they say so you’ll take certain action, such as purchasing something. Don’t buy in. Verify what they are telling you on the organization’s actual website. If you have trouble verifying this yourself, ask a trusted family member or friend to help.
4. “You’re smart to take advantage of this limited offer.”
Scammers will praise your intelligence for taking advantage of their offer (and their offer is usually an act-now, don’t hesitate opportunity). It may seem easy to assume you can’t fall victim to fraud. However, older adults who believe they are too smart to fall for a scam are the ones most likely to fall victim, according to AARP. One coping strategy: Stay vigilant, and realize it’s possible for anyone to fall for a scam.
5. In a romantic context, they heap praise and want to get serious quickly.
With the wide use of dating apps and websites, romance scams abound. In fact, there were 32,800 romance scams in 2020 reported to the Federal Trade Commission, a 31% increase compared to 2019, according to a Wall Street Journal article. Yet you should be suspicious when someone wants to get too serious, too fast. That could be a way to butter you up so they will then ask for money to help with so-called medical costs, travel expenses, or debt. If you are using dating apps and websites, keep your guard up and quickly end interactions that take an odd turn.
One final piece of advice to avoid the psychological tactics of COVID-19 scammers: Avoid picking up the phone if you don’t recognize the number, and don’t respond to emails (or click on links) from people who you don’t know.