COVID-19 gives rise to money scams 1

COVID-19 gives rise to money scams

Aneth Ng-Lim

Posted at Aug 31 2020 08:36 AM | Updated as of Aug 31 2020 09:06 AM

Nearly 70 years old, Aling Lorena knows better than to leave her house in the middle of a pandemic. Since March, she has been staying home in Pampanga, in a small town several hours away from the province’s capital. 

Imagine her shock when she called her bank to check her account balance and discovered P40,000 missing. As she hasn’t visited a branch nor seen an ATM machine in weeks, Aling Lorena is clinging to her ATM card hoping it will provide answers to her many questions.

You’d think scammers will give us a break and do some soul-searching themselves while the world is batting its worst medical crisis in modern day history. Sadly, they are working overtime to take advantage of the pandemic and continue to con people to trick them out of their money. 

How are they doing it? Let me list some of the ways.

No. 1 “Ayuda” for you 

Who can say no to “ayuda” at this time of financial crisis? At least 1 in 4 Filipinos have lost their jobs or taking home a lot less income courtesy of the pandemic. Scammers are taking advantage luring you in with offers of relief packages. They start out with SMS trying to see who would take a bait – don’t! 

I received several and the SMS are pretty similar like below:

“You have been granted
Convid-19 relief Palliative
Of USD1,200,000. For details / claims,

Using local prepaid mobile numbers, you could easily spot these scams by 3 things: (1) amount promised is too generous – most Filipinos have to go through painful red tape to receive a few thousand pesos, so how can it be this easy to receive “ayuda” that’s more than a million and in US dollars; (2) spelling and typographical errors - they were too busy scamming to go to school and learn grammar; and (3) email address – using free accounts versus coming from official organization accounts.

I could not help it: I replied and said “let me grant you COVID-19 instead.”

No. 2 “Free” COVID-19 testing 

If you receive a phone call, email, text or even letter by snail mail offering free COVID-19 testing for you and your family, please know it’s 99 percent likely to be a hoax. With limited testing facilities, priority continue to be given to people suffering with symptoms, and these tests are generally not free.

Why would they want to make you this offer? Because before you can get the test, you will need to share with them all your personal information from your names, birthdates and address. You will also need to disclose how many you are at home and what times are convenient to visit you. That’s a lot of useful information to burglars.

And come to think of it: how did you qualify for free testing when based on their questions, they didn’t really know you at all?

No. 3 Accepting “reservations” for COVID-19 vaccine 

Everyone knows that the whole world is waiting for a COVID-19 vaccine to build herd immunity and life can go back to normal or new normal. There are many vaccines in various testing stages and they are rushing to launch first and get huge contracts from national governments.

It’s natural for all of us to want to get the vaccine when it’s available, and to be one of the first to have it. But you will get it the same way you received all your other vaccines: from a doctor, a clinic, or a hospital. It certainly won’t be from a telemarketer calling you from Papua New Guinea at 1 a.m. and asking you for your credit card number and the three digit number at the back of your card to authorize the transaction.

No. 4 Urgent help needed, donate to help “others” 

This one sadly preys on people’s generosity to help others even if they have little to spare. It’s not only fake news that we find everywhere in social media but also fake charities to con you not just of donations but also personal information. 

The sad thing here is that there are many legitimate charities that are doing the same work and similar marketing campaigns so how do you spot a fake? I suggest you do your homework. Fake charities will not have a track record so go back years to see just how long they have been around. Fake charities will have few supporters and this is where testimonials of respected people come in handy. If there are several vouching for the charity, chances are they do legitimate work. Check their leaders too – who are the officers and board members? The more information available online, the more likely they do real good work.

No. 5 Your money was “stolen”

Aling Lorena finally remembered that a couple of months ago, she received a call from someone claiming to be from her bank. The person on the other line said that they did a systems upgrade and the accounts of their depositors were affected. She needed to get from Aling Lorena her ATM PIN and also her One Time PIN so they can “reset” her account and make sure her money is intact.

You can guess that they used these information for account takeover and withdrew most of her money. All that’s left now is about P4,000 after two unauthorized withdrawals of P20,000. In this case, because Aling Lorena disclosed her ATM PIN and One Time PIN, the bank cannot help her recover her money.

Stranger danger 

We can look forward to many more months of uncertainty. Governments around the world admit that it will take a long time for economic recovery as well so you can expect scammers to work harder to steal your hard earned money.

Knowing about possible scams is a good first step to protecting yourself. Warn your family and friends too. I have two simple rules when it comes to spotting scams. One, if it’s too good to be true, it probably is so just walk away. Two, if it doesn’t feel right, remember what your parents taught you: Never talk to strangers, especially when they want your personal information.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.