The pandemic is a gold mine for scammers. Here’s how consumers can protect themselves | Opinion

September 28, 2020 6:30 am

By John Breyault

Unfortunately for so many Americans, the picture I am about to paint will not be difficult for many to imagine. Fraud is rampant right now, as the pandemic serves as the catalyst and the opportunity being exploited by some of the most deplorable, and sophisticated, criminals in today’s globally connected criminal underworld.

Scores of Americans are falling victim to schemes left and right – from bad actors who promised quick processing of stimulus checks in the spring, to fake landlords offering cheaper rent for housing that doesn’t exist, making off with security deposits and first month’s rent.

At the National Consumers League, we are on the front lines nationally and in the states, educating consumers on the latest fraudulent actors perpetrating crimes on unsuspecting Americans.

In partnership with policymakers and top technologies companies such as Google, we are working to drive awareness surrounding the threats that persist and endanger the economic well-being of Americans, many of whom are already experiencing economic hardship due to the pandemic.

whether it is an annoying robocall or persistent, pushy emails, remember to never provide your personal information to anyone.

Recently, we partnered with some of the nation’s leading law enforcement officers – state attorneys general – to raise awareness about efforts to take the fight to scammers in states throughout the country. We began our efforts in May here in Pennsylvania, with a wide-ranging, virtual discussion with state Attorney General Josh Shapiro on COVID-19 scams, followed by an engaging panel discussion.

Our panelists, representing Carnegie Mellon University, the Metro Philadelphia Better Business Bureau, and Pennsylvania AARP Fraud Watch, collectively shared critical insights on existing threats affecting community members across the state.

In light of that conversation and others around the country, we want to share some important updates. First, as the coronavirus has upended daily life, robocall operators have quickly shifted to blasting out spam phone calls offering all manner of coronavirus-related products and services.

YouMail, a cloud-based telecommunications provider that tracks robocall volumes, estimates that over 118 million robocalls per day  are inundating Americans’ cell phones.

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Fraudulent robo-callers are all manner of bogus services, including air duct sanitation services, work-from-home opportunities, cut-rate health insurance, and immune-system boosting nutritional supplements. Other robocalls have reportedly offered free insulin kits to diabetics, along with free coronavirus testing kits.

Second, email scammers have not relented with the onset of the pandemic. They have, unfortunately, upped their game targeting small businesses and individuals, not just in the U.S. but globally.

In fact, Google’s security team reported that during one week in April they blocked 18 million phishing emails related to COVID-19 per day, which is on top of the more than 100 million phishing email that seek entry to Gmail inboxes on a daily basis.

The company also relayed to customers that “the phishing attacks and scams we’re seeing use both fear and financial incentives to create urgency to try to prompt users to respond.”

Above all, whether it is an annoying robocall or persistent, pushy emails, remember to never provide your personal information to anyone.

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Technology platforms have performed admirably at stopping these impostors at the front gate and been a key player in thwarting some of the most sophisticated criminal enterprises.

We encourage you to report all spammers to your email providers and digital platforms so they can continue this important work in stopping scammers.

Finally, you can also report scammers you encounter by filing a complaint at via our secure online complaint form, where we process these submissions and help law enforcement bring scammers to justice. The complaints are shared with our network of nearly 200 law enforcement and consumer protection agency partners who can and do put fraudsters behind bars.

It is critical right now, as we grapple with the effects of the pandemic and assist those in need, that we partner with Pennsylvania law enforcement, elected officials, and technology companies so we can share these important reminders around fraud and how you can properly utilize online, digital resources to put an end to those seeking to exploit these unprecedented circumstances and harm Americans.

 John Breyault is the Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications, and Fraud at the National Consumers League, a consumer advocacy organization, representing consumers and workers on marketplace and workplace issues since its founding in 1899.

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