At the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, Consumer Protection Section, we receive thousands of scam reports annually from consumers all over the Buckeye State. While many scams are age old and occur over and over again to scammers’ potential victims, there are variations that often play out as a result of what’s currently in the news.
There hasn’t been a bigger news story in Ohio, the United States and throughout the world over the last year than COVID-19. The global pandemic has caused many people to be virtually homebound, not visiting restaurants, concerts, art galleries or really anywhere public unless it is absolutely necessary.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been front page news, so it is ripe for scammers to latch onto and create variations of some of the most common scams.
For example, one scammer approached an Ohioan through a social media message who pretended to be a “friend” stuck in Italy due to the coronavirus. He told the Ohioan he just needed some gift cards to help out a sick friend back in the United States. So, COVID-19 was used as a convenient excuse to make sudden contact with someone. The Ohio Attorney General’s Office has even created a series of animated videos to educate consumers and warn them of COVID-related scams. The series features a fictional family, the Clarks. These videos cover fraud-related topics, including how to spot the red flags of a scam. All the new videos can be viewed at https://www.ohioprotects.org/learn-about-fraud.
Here’s a really great video to learn some red flags of a COVID-related scam:
Here is a video to learn about potential identity theft in a COVID-related scam:
Here is a video concentrating on gift cards used in a COVID-related scam:
Here is a full video to educate about COIVID-related scams:
Tips to stay safe during COVID-19 include:
- If you receive a call and don’t recognize the number, DON’T ANSWER! Let the caller leave a message and research what is said to see if it’s legitimate.
- Know that scammers can “spoof” caller ID by pretending to call from your area code or another trusted-looking number. For example, they can make it seem as if they are calling from the CDC or a similar organization. Many scammers pretend to be IRS, Social Security or other government officials.
- Watch out for emails claiming to be from expert sources with special advice or info about COVID-19. Legitimate information is available for free at www.cdc.gov and www.coronavirus.ohio.gov.
- Ignore advertisements promoting cures for the coronavirus.
- Research nonprofit organizations and crowdfunding campaigns before donating. Be cautious of anyone going door to door offering coronavirus testing or requesting personal info.
- Beware of emails, texts and other attempts to “phish” for your personal, financial or medical information. Some may even pretend to be a local COVID-19 contact tracer.
- Never share personal information with anyone who contacts you unexpectedly. Consider placing an initial fraud alert or a security freeze on your credit report.
- Never carry unnecessary personal information, such as your Social Security card, in your wallet or purse.
- Shred all outdated documents containing personal information.
- Don’t conduct private business on public Wi-Fi.
If you suspect an unfair business practice or want help addressing a consumer problem, contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at www.OhioProtects.org or 800-282-0515.