With shoppers staying home, more people are buying online. Unfortunately, online fraud is skyrocketing. Due to this surge in online ordering, hackers are increasingly targeting consumers with sophisticated fraud schemes. According to the FTC, over 14,000 submitted coronavirus-related fraud reports as of April 8, 2020. The total losses exceeded $10 Million Dollars, with the average consumer being defrauded of $564.00.
Often the perpetrators of these frauds are anonymous or based overseas, making recovery against them difficult, or impossible, if you become a victim. However, there are several things you can do to try to stay safe:
- Don’t respond to texts, emails or calls about checks from the government, or from any source you do not recognize. The United States government will not reach you by text message.
- Ignore online offers for COVID-19 treatments, vaccinations and home test kits. These promises are scams, and there is currently no known treatment nor vaccination.
- Hang up on robocalls and ignore calls from people and groups you don’t recognize.
- Don’t trust caller ID. Scam calls may show up on your caller ID as coming from the Social Security Administration or other government office. However, scammers can fake the caller ID, and this is not proof the call is genuine.
- Your Social Security Number is not about to be suspended. This is a common lie, along with the lie that your bank accounts are about to be seized.
- Do not give your Social Security Number or other private data to anyone who calls you that you do not know.
- For online purchases, use a credit card and not a debit card. If your credit card number is stolen, or you are the victim of a scam when purchasing goods or services, and you report the problem to your credit card company, you can usually benefit from fraud protections and have the charges reversed. However, your debit card may not have the same fraud protections, and even if there are protections, you usually cannot access money in your checking account until the investigation is fully complete.
Of course, online and phone scams from anonymous hackers are not the only problem facing consumers. Unscrupulous businesses may be taking the opportunity to hike prices, engage in bait-and-switch sales and false advertisements, reject warranties, deny contractual obligations, and otherwise conduct unlawful business activity. If you are the victim of unfair or deceptive business practices or fraud, you may be able to bring a civil claim to recoup your losses, plus attorney fees and in some cases additional damages.
Jesse R. Butler is a consumer and business law attorney, and a board-certified appellate specialist. His practice focuses on cases involving consumer protection, insurance coverage disputes, breach of contract, warranty claims, product liability, and general civil litigation. He is a partner at the Sarasota law firm Dickinson & Gibbons, P.A.