The news is full of inspiring stories about people in our communities going the extra mile to help others who are dealing with hardships that have accompanied the coronavirus pandemic. Sadly, others lurking in the shadows of society are using this as a platform to exploit the seniors and other vulnerable members of our communities.
We all now know that those most vulnerable to the coronavirus are people over 65 years of age, and especially those with underlying health problems. As a result, many seniors are more isolated than ever. Well-meaning friends, family and neighbors are not visiting for fear of unwittingly transmitting the virus. Unfortunately, the increased isolation is making seniors more vulnerable.
Some of the scams are calculated to prey on the fears of the elderly, while others are familiar scams that are being revisited upon seniors in hopes that fewer people are looking out for them.
In one news report, a 75 year old living alone found a flyer on his door from a company purporting to provide “coronavirus decontamination services” offering to decontaminate homes for an extravagant charge for each room cleaned.
Other scammers are contacting seniors claiming to have a coronavirus vaccine or preventative and seeking payment over the phone as a condition for shipping.
There are also investment scams in which seniors are receiving telephone calls or emails offering opportunities to invest in companies that are held out as having developed a vaccine or other coronavirus cures.
The Federal Trade Commission has issued warnings to the public about scams in which seniors and others are being contacted by phone or email and are being asked to provide personal information including bank account and credit card information in order to facilitate the processing of government coronavirus payouts or benefits. People are being warned not to provide any information in response to such solicitations.
As always, there are many fraudulent websites and email solicitations that attempt to trick recipients or browsers into downloading dangerous software or attachments or promoting links that fraudulently solicit donations to coronavirus victims.
For those of us with friends, neighbors or family who are vulnerable seniors, it’s important to stay in touch to make sure they are not being victimized or taken advantage of. It is very important that suspected scams and frauds be reported to the authorities. While a scammer may not have been successful with you or your loved ones, unless caught, they are going to move on and are going to successfully victimize someone else.
The Virginia State Police has joined forces with its federal law enforcement partners to form the Virginia Coronavirus Fraud Taskforce. To report fraudulent activity, Virginians can notify the Virginia Fusion Center (VFC) at firstname.lastname@example.org or they can visit the FBI website at www.Ic3.gov. In the event that an in person scam has been attempted or perpetrated, call your local sheriff or police department.
If personal information has been given out that might compromise a bank account or other account, contact the bank or financial institution right away and let them know and if you have a PIN, change it. If a fraudulent charge has been made on your credit card, call your credit card company and report it. If someone has made unauthorized charges on your credit card, you should immediately contact the credit card company and report it. Many credit card companies have zero liability policies, meaning you won’t be responsible for any fraudulent charges made on your account. Federal law also imposes a limit on customer’s liability for fraudulent credit card charges.
The bottom line is that seniors and their families need to be especially vigilant to avoid being victimized by any of these scams.