Scammers are working to take advantage of the fear and anxiety that have taken hold as the COVID-19 pandemic has spread, officials warn.
Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson alerted people to charity scams in a statement last week.
“In this unprecedented situation, many of us are searching for ways to help,” Ferguson wrote. “Unfortunately, scammers look for ways to prey on Washingtonians’ good will.”
Some organizations will appear to be collecting donations for first responders or others impacted by coronavirus but are not legitimate, Ferguson said.
Secretary of State Kim Wyman encouraged individuals to continue to be charitable but take steps to make sure the organizations to which they donate are legitimate.
“I want to caution our fellow Washingtonians to pause before you donate,” Wyman wrote in a statement. “Take your time and ask the right questions to make sure they are a legitimate organization before you give them your money.”
Doug Shadel, Washington state director of the AARP, said AARP’s Fraud Watch Network has seen a significant increase in coronavirus-related scams.
Under normal circumstances, scammers will try to get callers to panic but with a pandemic most people are already emotional.
“They don’t have to convince them to be in a panic. They already are,” Shadel said.
Scammers might call and say they have masks for discounted prices or will send hand sanitizer, Shadel said.
With people already panicked, even savvy consumers could fall victim to coronavirus-related scams.
“It’s not that they’re dumb. It has nothing to do with intelligence,” Shadel said. “It has to do with whether your emotions are limiting your logical reasoning.”
Shadel also cautioned against donating money to seemingly charitable causes over the phone.
“If you want to give to the cause of the coronavirus, don’t wait for someone to call and ask you,” Shadel said. “Do your investigation yourself and decide where you want to give.”
Charities registered with the Secretary of State’s office have summaries of their tax status and financial records publicly available, giving donors reliable information on where their money is going. Complaints against organizations can also be filed there.
Ferguson and Wyman encouraged donors not to give in to high-pressure solicitors, to check the charity’s rating on the Better Business Bureau and to call the charity directly to make sure a solicitor is authorized to collect donations.
Fraudulent schemes aren’t limited to collecting donations.
There is no cure or vaccine currently available for COVID-19 and any company selling these things is suspect, according to a statement from U.S. Attorney for the state of Idaho, Bart Davis.
Phishing emails posing as organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization have seen a rise, along with websites that appear to share coronavirus information but instead lock access to devices until paid.
If individuals receive a robocall, an email or see a pop up with the word coronavirus in it “a red flag should go up,” Shadel said.
Reliable sources of coronavirus information are available online through the CDC, health districts and local media organizations, Shadel said.
“With this coronavirus thing, we worry that people’s heart leads, not their head,” Shadel said.
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