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Investigators: Scammers attempting to cash in on COVID-19

Published: Dec. 9, 2021 at 9:47 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - With every twist and turn of the COVID-19 pandemic come new worries and new scams.

Con artists try to fool you by promising stimulus checks, vaccine passports, and even money if you’ve gotten vaccinated.

Some people have received text messages offering $100 to get vaccinated. All you have to do is click on the mysterious link.

”The government is never going to text you like that for money, so you should never click on any unsolicited link,” said Daniel Irwin with the Better Business Burea (BBB) of the Mid-South.

Irwin says the COVID-19 crisis created countless new opportunities for criminals, crooks, and creeps to steal your money.

”COVID-19 opened the door for a lot of scams we don’t normally see,” he said.

Early on in the pandemic, the first scams involved phony PPE offers and online deals for masks, toilet paper, or disinfectant products that never arrived. Particularly cruel schemes promised access to the vaccine before shots were actually available.

“I received a call that I was eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, but I needed a COVID-19 test first,” one victim wrote on the BBB’s Scam Tracker website. “The man asked for and I gave him my Medicare number and my name and address. He said he was coming to my house to administer the test but never showed.”

Victims also fell for fake stimulus check offers and housing assistance.

One Memphis woman received a fraudulent text claiming to be from the U.S. Department of Human Services. It offered her “eviction help,” so she clicked the link and filled out an application.

The BBB says she lost $1,500 by sending pre-paid gift cards to the scammer for “fees.”

”A tell tale sign that it’s a scam is if anyone contacts you and says you qualify for a grant, but you just need to pay money upfront for taxes or fees. It’s going to be a scam every time,” Irwin said.

Another victim is out $2,400 after falling for a fake Facebook message saying FEMA’s giving out money.

“They asked for my Cash App info and email and said I’d receive my payment through that. Next thing I know, transactions are being made directly out of my bank account. I’m told they can’t be reversed. I feel humiliated and stressed out because I really needed my money for bills,” she wrote on the Scam Tracker site.

”There’s no shame in falling for something like this. It doesn’t mean you’re stupid. And the only way you can keep someone else from falling for it is to tell other people about it,” Irwin said.

Other scams involve phony vaccine passport sites.

Here are the legitimate ones:

  • Clear
  • VaxYes
  • Airside

To avoid becoming a victim:

  • Be skeptical of miracle cures or treatments
  • Check sellers, vendors, or websites at BBB.org
  • Don’t give out your SSN, credit card, or bank account info to get a stimulus payment
  • Don’t click links or attachments from strange sources

”Anytime you get an unsolicited text message or call, you should assume it’s a scam,” warned Irwin.

If you suspect something is a scam, report it on the BBB Scam Tracker website.

If you’re wondering if an offer is legit, just call the BBB of the Mid-South. They have a comprehensive list of government programs. They can tell you if it’s real or not.

Copyright 2021 WMC. All rights reserved.

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