While the nation faces unprecedented furloughs, layoffs, and economic difficulties, scammers continue to find novel ways to profit. In an attempt to dispel misinformation and provide guidance, the Federal Trade Commission is taking action to halt snake oil products and educate consumers on these ever-evolving scams.
Mimicking techniques routinely used by lenders to lawfully communicate with borrowers, scammers are utilizing robocalls to prey on vulnerable members of the public. The automated calls include pitches for a wide array of scams including: coronavirus (“COVID-19”) treatments, work-at-home schemes, mortgage and student loan relief, and assistance with obtaining stimulus payments pursuant to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act 2020. To keep scammers at bay, the FTC recommends hanging up on robocalls and not pressing any buttons in response to the call. The FTC also issued a cautionary disclaimer, warning consumers to be skeptical of any debt settlement company that promises to help consumers for an upfront fee.
The FTC also is encouraging borrowers to be proactive if they are concerned about the potential impact of business closures or loss of income. Calling your lender to discuss available options will limit borrower exposure both in the short and long term. With the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, other financial regulators, and politicians encouraging financial institutions to work with their customers to meet their community needs, many lenders and servicers have responded by providing options to help borrowers during this difficult time. Additionally, being proactive reduces the chances of desperate consumers becoming susceptible to credit–related scams.
The FTC alert also warned generous consumers about making donations to charities or crowdfunding sites where the purported beneficiary wants proceeds in cash, gift card, or wiring money. Coming together during this time is pivotal, but consumers must be wary of anyone attempting to pressure them into hastily donating their money.
Other tips include ignoring online offers for COVID-19 vaccinations and home test kits, not responding to texts or emails from third parties regarding stimulus checks, avoiding links from online sources that you do not know, and avoiding emails where the senders claim to be from the Internal Revenue Service, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an expert with information about COVID-19, or the World Health Organization. Seeing a rise in misleading COVID-19-related products, the FTC and Food and Drug Administration jointly have issued warning letters to seven sellers of unapproved and misbranded products claiming to treat or prevent COVID-19: Vital Silver, Quinessence Aromatherapy Ltd., N-ergetics, GuruNanda, LLC, Vivify Holistic Clinic, Herbal Amy LLC, and The Jim Bakker Show. These companies allegedly have attempted to sell or dispense COVID-19 cure–all products ranging from teas and oils to colloidal silver, despite any supporting evidence showing proof of such claims. As the desire for at-home testing and treatment only grows, consumers must be informed about the authenticity of any COVID-19-related products and verify the claims by monitoring the official websites for the FTC and FDA.