Old Scams Revamped for COVID-19

It may seem like there is an infinite number of scams, but when you take a closer look, it turns out there really aren’t that many basic schemes, just a lot of variations of old ones, dressed up with new details.

Sometimes big changes in technology don’t even usher in completely new basic types—the “Nigerian 419” scams (a type of advance fee fraud) that is mostly known as an email-based con used to proliferate through postal mail and fax machines. In fact, it’s based on a scam from the late 1700s that was known as the “Spanish Prisoner scam,” wherein the victim would be promised a large sum from a wealthy family, if only he would provide the money to bribe the guards at a Spanish prison, in which some rich nobleman was being wrongly held.

With a global pandemic now unfolding, and all the unprecedented problems it has caused at every level, you will definitely see some old scams reemerging. Some will directly invoke the coronavirus, while others will simply take advantage of the situation with very few updates.

Work-at-home scams will probably see a bump. With millions of people laid off, furloughed or working reduced hours, and with the very real possibility that some employers will end up closing down for good, a lot of people will be looking for opportunities to earn extra money from home. And while there are legitimate ways to do this, many (if not most) of what you’ll find by searching on the internet are going to be scams. The old “mystery shopper” scam probably won’t be too big, since not many people are real jazzed on the idea of going to stores in person at the moment, but you might encounter an uptick in “payment processing” or “reshipping” jobs, which are nothing more than money-laundering operations run by organized criminals. In any case, no job opportunity is going to come to you from out of nowhere, and if you find something online, even if it’s posted on a well-known job-hunting website, do plenty of research before you respond.

I believe IRS Impersonation scams are going to be off the charts this year. With millions of people receiving relief checks from the federal government, the temptation for scammers to try to cash in is going to be unbelievable. Remember that the IRS is never going to call you on the phone and demand immediate payment by credit card, wire transfer or prepaid debit. I have a feeling people are going to get calls telling them that they “must pay taxes on your stimulus check or face arrest,” which gets so many things wrong it isn’t even funny (it’s not called a “stimulus check” this time, for one). Even if the economic impact payments were taxable income, which they’re not, you wouldn’t have to deal with it until next year, when you file 2020 taxes.

Grandparent scams will likely be given a COVID-19 twist. Instead of the usual calls (“I got mugged in London” or “I’m in jail in Mexico”), they will pivot to “I have the virus and they won’t give me medical care until you wire money.” Just remember that this setup has never once turned out to be true, even if the caller seems to know some information about the person they claim to be.

These are just a few old schemes that may get a fresh coat of paint this year, but there will be others. As always, take a few moments to stop and think before you respond to any new information, and remember that anyone trying to make you afraid, or entice you with easy money, then asking for money or personal information, is up to no good.