Unfortunately, many people have taken advantage of the pandemic as a way to defraud individuals. Many of these scams target seniors specifically. If you find yourself in any of the following situations, please proceed with caution as they are likely scams:
- Someone offers to sell you a “miracle” treatment, cure, or vaccine for COVID-19 (there are currently no FDA-approved cures or treatments for COVID-19 other than those in the testing phase and those that treat symptoms only, and the vaccine is not available to the general public yet due to supply and priority issues.)
- Someone offers you a guaranteed “place in line” or “reservation” for the COVID-19 vaccine in exchange for a fee (distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine is heavily regulated by State and Federal governments, is currently limited to certain healthcare workers and residents of long term care facilities, and is unavailable at any price to the general public until supplies increase and vulnerable populations are vaccinated).
- Someone asks you over the phone, by email, or by text message to provide bank account information or a fee in order to receive your stimulus check (the IRS will never contact you asking for account information – the agency is issuing paper checks to anyone for whom it does not have bank account information. The only way to provide the IRS with this information or check the status of your stimulus is through irs.gov.)
- Someone offers to protect you from eviction or foreclosure for a fee (eviction and mortgage foreclosure proceedings are currently suspended in New York State courts, so all New York residents already have this protection at no charge).
Importantly, phone calls from “NYS Contact Tracing” are not scams – these are important phone calls regarding potential exposure to COVID from official government contact tracers. See the section on New York’s reopening plans for more information about contact tracing. Certain counties are conducting their own contact tracing operations. New Yorkers should check with their department of health in their county to determine whether contact tracers may call them from another phone number, and should answer the phone if they get a call from this number. However, these contact tracers will never ask you for information about your bank accounts, credit cards, or other financial information.
The above list contains just some examples of COVID-19 related scams. The best way to protect yourself is to trust your instincts – if something seems strange or too good to be true, then it probably is. There are several resources available for people who want to learn more about scams, including how to protect themselves. The Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov) and the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (www.cfpb.gov) both have detailed information on their websites regarding scam prevention and avoidance. Additionally, the government’s free credit reporting service is now offering all people free copies of their credit report weekly, whereas previously they were only allowed free copies 3 times a year. To access this service visit www.annualcreditreport.com. Checking your credit report regularly is an important way to prevent scams, or to find fraudulent activity early and take action to stop it. If you think you’ve been a victim of a scam, please contact the Center for Elder Law and Justice at (716) 853-3087 or the CELJ Legal Advice Helpline toll-free at (844) 481-0973.
WHAT IF I HAVE MORE QUESTIONS?
Call us! The Center for Elder Law and Justice operates a Legal Advice Helpline to answer your legal questions, and provide referrals to services when you need more in-depth information. The Helpline serves individuals aged 55 and over. Helpline calls are free of charge!
The Helpline is staffed by attorneys Monday through Friday from 9:00am to 11:00am to take live calls. You can also call outside of these hours and leave a voicemail to get a callback from an attorney, or send an email to Helpline@elderjusticeny.org. Please leave a working phone number at which you can be reached so that an attorney can contact you. To contact the Helpline attorneys by phone, please call toll-free 1-844-481-0973.