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JOHNSTON: Protect yourself from COVID-19 scams

Scammers will take advantage of any news story to come up with a related scam to steal your information or your money and our current situation is no different.

Consumer protection agencies are reporting a variety of new scams related to COVID-19.

There are ways to protect against scams of any type, no matter the current headlines.

Don’t wire money or send a gift card to a stranger.

Scammers will often pretend to be someone they are not in imposter scams. They are hoping to gain your trust so they can gather your information for identity theft or they use their disguise to threaten you, hoping to scare you into sending money.

The scammer typically wants you to wire money or pay by gift card, which can’t be tracked or reversed.

Sometimes, the scammer will impersonate a family member in need of assistance, such as in the grandparent scam.

Other times, it will be a false government official. The scammer may pretend to be the U.S. Treasury or IRS, claiming to need your information or a payment to send your stimulus check or business grant. The money for these checks will be direct deposited to the account you filed for your 2018 or 2019 taxes. Check irs.gov/coronavirus if you have questions.

Beware if charities ask for donations in these nontraditional formats. Only donate to trusted charities.

Research and verify businesses and their claims.

The Federal Trade Commission and the Food and Drug Administration have recently sent warning letters to companies selling products with false claims of treating or preventing the coronavirus. The FTC said the companies do not provide evidence of these claims as the law requires.

Also watch out for advance-fee scams. In these scams, the seller asks for additional money for shipping or other cash up front.

The item paid for may never be delivered or is not the quality promised.

In one of these scams, the scammer offers to run errands such as picking up groceries and prescriptions. The scammer takes the list and the money but doesn’t return.

Another scam involves fake COVID-19 testing sites.

In online purchase scams, people purchase items but never receive them. These scams have been found connected to a variety of products, from in-demand cleaning and household supplies to medical protective equipment.

Avoid clicking links in emails and texts, and don’t share your personal information.

Avoid clicking links to protect yourself from phishing. Phishing is when scammers attempt to trick you by sending a fake email or text or using a copycat website or pop-up.

Some of these false messages are meant to trick you into clicking and downloading viruses or malware onto your computer, tablet or phone.

Scammers are now impersonating the World Health Organization or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They may claim to have information about the virus in hopes you will click the link.

Other phishing attempts will ask you to provide personal information.

Government agencies and companies you do business with will not ask for your personal information. Keep your name, password, PIN, Social Security number and other identifying information confidential.

You can report phishing to the FTC at spam@uce.gov.

Hang up on robo calls. Recordings and hired staff are now calling about fake tests, small business listings, Social Security checks, insurance, work-at-home and more. Don’t press any numbers or share any information.

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Many scams fall into this category.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is warning people about false investment opportunities.

Publicly-traded companies may claim their products and services will offer coronavirus solutions and that their stock price will rise. Investments are not guaranteed, so anything promised as a “sure bet” may be suspicious. Always research investments before buying.

Also, watch out for employment scams promising you can do a little work from home for a lot of money. Many of these are advance-fee scams in disguise. They promise to reimburse for costs but never deliver or make you pay up front for licenses or insurance.

Feel free to reach out to the Extension Office if you have any questions about these scams or you can report scams to the FTC atwww.ftccomplaintassistant.gov or to the Kentucky Attorney General at 888-432-9257.

If you would like to receive scam alerts, you can sign up by texting KYOAG Scam to GOV311 (468311).

Report phishing and hacking scams to the FBI at www.ic3.gov.

For up-to-date information about COVID-19 in Kentucky, visit kycovid19.ky.gov.

Stay safe out there as we are all staying #healthyathome.

Shonda Johnston is the Clark County Extension agent for family and consumer sciences. She can be reached at 859-744-4682 or by email at shonda.johnston@uky.edu.