How scam artists are capitalizing on coronavirus fears

Published: Jun. 10, 2020 at 2:27 PM EDT
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Three months ago, the coronavirus outbreak was declared a pandemic and since then, con artists have tried to capitalize on fears surrounding COVID-19. The Federal Trade Commission has received around 67,000 complaints involving COVID-related fraud with people losing more than $48 million.

"As soon as the pandemic hit, we started seeing scams related to it," said Katherine Hutt of the Better Business Bureau.

She says the most prevalent scam involves masks. Customers purchase them on websites that turn out to be fake and they never show up. Federal authorities have seized fraudulent masks from China that don't work along with phony coronavirus tests and treatments.

Last month, members of the Urbandale United Church of Christ in Iowa received an unusual email. It appeared to be from Rev. David Sickelka, asking for assistance during the pandemic. But the reverend says it was a scam. Sickelka says someone started a fake email account in his name.

"It makes me very angry when people try to exploit a situation like this," he said.

Other churches have reported similar scams with fake emails asking for money or prepaid debit cards, and it's just one of many coronavirus-related cons out there.

Puppy scams are a major problem. People in search of a pet send money for a dog they find on a fraudster's site, only to never get the pet.

"So what you really need to watch out for is when somebody asks you for money. You also need to be really careful about sharing personally identifiable information," Hutt warned.

She says people should always think twice before clicking on unsolicited texts or emails. And if a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

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