The more things change, the more they stay the same. Crime and fraud are as old as time, so it’s not surprising that hackers and criminals create havoc during this pandemic since this is the perfect time to strike. To stay one step ahead of the criminals, we’ll look into the “new normal” of fraud cases in the US and how to protect yourself.
This type of fraud has been widely reported, and is one of the most immoral ways to take advantage of an overwhelmed healthcare system. Medical workers and first responders on the frontlines have disproportionately been impacted by COVID-19. With the urgent needs of cities and hospitals for equipment to protect medical workers, shady merchants in the US and abroad jumped into the fray selling PPE gear at massive markups (and at times falsely representing official manufacturers).
As this article covers states, “federal prosecutors allege that Ronald Romano of Manalapan, working with co-conspirators, tried to sell 3M-brand face masks to NYC officials at a 400 percent markup over list price — even though he was not an authorized distributor and did not actually have the masks.” During crisis times there will always be those who attempt to profit on others’ suffering, but as the article indicates, there are repercussions: “Romano, 58, a used-car dealer by trade, faces more than 30 years in prison on charges of wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and violations of the Defense Production Act.” When in doubt, do your research and deal directly with manufacturers to understand who they work with to supply their products.
Fake testing sites
While it may sound like a sitcom plot, fake COVID-19 testing sites have appeared. Initially there were limited testing sites, but testing has dramatically increased the past few weeks. Still, many people feel uncertain and want a quick test to calm their nerves. Fraud happens when people are fearful and willing to part with their resources. A quick online search could determine legitimate testing sites, rather than a makeshift roadside tent with people dressed in medical gear. Calling a local COVID-19 hotline or visiting the website should provide testing sites.
Online fraud is increasing
This is not surprising given the amount of traffic online. A Forbes article states: “according to a June statement from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), mobile banking use has surged by 50% since the beginning of 2020.” E-commerce has also grown exponentially, with more people conducting transactions online and using new payment methods. This is the final frontier of fraud as more of our lives go online – a game of cat and mouse where hackers find a weakness to exploit and we look for ways to better protect ourselves.
As we have covered in the past, be careful and don’t let the general laxity of staying at home keep you from the usual means of staying safe online. If you receive an email or notification from someone attempting to gain access to your account, let your financial institution know immediately.
Non-profit scams: same crime, different cause
Like charity frauds after 9/11, this is another low point criminals reach for. Many are suffering because of the coronavirus so criminals prey on people’s good will to line their own pockets. These scams are nothing new. We have seen many ways criminals and terror groups exploit NGO status to collect funds or create fake charities online. With any massive outpouring of empathy for suffering groups, we see evil enter the picture. If you are interested in donating to help victims of COVID-19, please check out this list of highly rated charities.
As summer begins and stay-at-home restrictions are lifted, we will begin to feel “normal” and let our guard down. The reality is that the spread of the virus only slowed down. We need to not only protect ourselves against COVID-19 but also keep an eye out for those exploiting the suffering the virus has caused.
and we must be aware of what is happening around us. We need to not only protect ourselves against COVID-19 but also to keep an eye out for those who would exploit the suffering the virus has caused.
For additional resources and guidance, the Interfor team is here to help.