Coronavirus Opens a Pandora’s Box of Scams
Scams that have increased since the pandemic include large up-front money payments to companies claiming they can assist homeowners in renegotiating mortgage payments they missed because of COVID linked job layoffs; or scams that promise small businesses an inside track to securing federal paycheck protection funds to retain employees.
Several speakers said that humiliation over being scammed often discourages victims from reporting what happened.
Cheryl Koch-Martinez, who works at Indiana Legal Services, said her organization assists low-income residents in understanding their financial options and advising them on consumer fraud cases. Given the imperative for social-distancing, “face-to-face communication is just not there,” she said. Telephone and e-mail are inefficient substitutes for the sensitive conversations that need to occur.
Several speakers highlighted the debilitating effects of scams that prey on people’s loneliness. While romance scams come readily to mind, scammers also have used a victim to become unwitting money mules, someone who moves money to a third-party. The use of third parties makes the origin and movement of financial transactions more difficult for authorities to trace.