Any time there’s a lot of data moving from A to B, folks have to be extra vigilant about protecting themselves from hacks and scams. Back in 2018, when approximately 59 million Americans started receiving new Medicare and Medicaid cards, fraudsters pounced, claiming they were calling on behalf of the government to “confirm” those new ID numbers. Tax season can be another danger zone as crooks try to get between folks and their tax refunds.
The Covid-19 situation is especially ripe for scams because it combines high online traffic with another thing that criminals love to exploit: emotional vulnerability. We’re all tired, we’re all worried, and many of us either need some financial help or want to give what we can to help others. Add in the recent unrest in our cities and it’s going to be critically important that you think before you click in the weeks ahead.
You might not be a target for all of these Covid-19 scams, but I hope you’ll share this list with friends and family who might be.
1. The IRS isn’t contacting you.
Most folks who were eligible for tax rebate checks provided by the CARES Act have already received them. If you haven’t, the IRS is not going to call, text, or email you asking for more information. You also don’t have pay any kind of processing fee to get your check, so hang up on anyone asking for a banking or credit card number. Instead, go to https://www.irs.gov/coronavirus/economic-impact-payments and click “Get My Payment” for help. Your tax preparer or fiduciary advisor could be another resource for making sure you’re eligible and helping you get that check.
And once you do have your check, if the IRS calls saying they paid you too much?
Yep, that’s another scam.
2. There’s no cure, vaccine, or over-the-counter test yet.
At the very beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic our health care experts estimated it could take up to 18 months to create a vaccine. And while there’s been some positive news on that front, we’re not there yet.
The FDA and FTC have been cracking down on companies and individuals who are selling tests, vaccines, and even cures. One popular scam tactic is to play off the popularity of homeopathic, natural, and herbal products like essential oils and immune system boosters. That soothing lavender mist might help you sleep better at night, but if you see any bottles like these popping up in your email or social media ads, keep scrolling.
3. Make sure your new best friend is the right best friend.
If you follow me on Facebook you might have seen that Rosie the Rhodesian Ridgeback recently joined my family. My wife and I had been thinking about getting a puppy for some time, but millions of other Americans have bought or adopted pets during quarantine for companionship or to take advantage of time at home for training and housebreaking. There are also studies that link pet ownership with lower levels of stress and higher levels of exercise, both of which are big plusses right now.
Unfortunately, scammers and disreputable pet dealers know all this too. Before you start thinking about where to buy your new pet, do some homework to see what the animal you want typically costs. Dogs and cats advertised as purebred but selling way below their normal price is one common red flag. Another, especially if you’re shopping online, is a pet dealer asking you to wire money or pay with some kind of a gift card they’re selling. Paying by credit card gives you extra protection because federal law limits your liability for credit card fraud. And if you’ve zeroed in on one specific animal, do an image search to make sure the picture you’re seeing hasn’t been reused on multiple sites, which is a sign you might not be buying the animal you think you’re buying.
The health and emotional benefits of buying a pet can be enormous, especially for retired seniors. The Humane Society of the United States has some great resources on adoption as well as an online tool to help you find a trustworthy shelter or rescue group near you.
4. Give the right way.
Right now, more than 40 million Americans are unemployed. Countless more are struggling to meet their basic needs. On top of that, there are now relief and social justice efforts ramping up in major cities across the country. Plus, the CDC reminds us that we’ve just entered hurricane season, which could put even more folks in harm’s way.
Social media can make it difficult for generous folks to separate legitimate charitable organizations from fraudulent ones. Local grassroots movements and new charities sound like very appealing beneficiaries. But even smaller groups that do have noble intentions often lack the resources and infrastructures of more established organizations. It’s a lot easier to make a compelling email campaign or Facebook video than it is to effectively disperse money, food, and other essentials.
That’s why, in general, your dollars will go further if you donate to an organization you know and trust than if you donate to a popular GoFundMe campaign. You can also consult a charitable watchdog group, like the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance, to learn about how specific charities and nonprofits put your money to use.
Finally, please remember that no matter how big the needs are right now in our country, you can’t give money to everyone, especially if you’re retired and on a fixed income. Make sure your generosity doesn’t negatively impact your ability to cover your own needs.
For more information on these and other Covid-19 scams, check out this resource page from the Federal Trade Commission. And if you need help navigating the financial challenges of Covid-19, contact my team at Keen Wealth to get the information you need.
Bill Keen is a CHARTERED RETIREMENT PLANNING COUNSELOR℠ and independent financial advisor with more than 25 years of industry experience. As the founder and CEO of Keen Wealth Advisors, a registered investment advisory firm, he specializes in providing personalized retirement planning designed to help people thrive before and during their retirement years. With a passion for educating others, Bill regularly blogs about retirement planning, hosts the podcast Keen on Retirement, and has contributed to U.S. News and World Report, Reuters, Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch, Yahoo Finance, and other publications. Based in Overland Park, Kansas, Bill and his team work with clients throughout the greater Kansas City area and across the nation. To learn more, connect with him on LinkedIn or visit www.keenwealthadvisors.com.
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