While investors are trying to decide whether this is the time to buy, sell, or hold stocks, some people are trying to make money in a very different way: They are using the coronavirus crisis as an opportunity to exploit, swindle, cheat, and rip off people with clever and deceitful schemes.  These individuals represent the worst of human nature.  Nevertheless, they make a great deal of money by duping and tricking others.

There are always crooks hard at work out there, but they’re working especially hard now, with an attitude of (to paraphrase one former politician) “Never let a disaster go to waste.”   

“In any crisis, you see scams pop up that are tied to the headlines,” said Barbara Roper, director of investor protection at the Consumer Federation of America.  And the ongoing crisis is certainly no exception.

Under the guise of the coronavirus, crooks are preying on a trusting public, their fear of becoming unemployed, and their concern about an economy that is not only slowing down but shutting down. 

Catch Of The Day

High on their list of scams is phishing.  This cybercrime uses emails, telephone calls, and text messages to target unsuspecting individuals.  Scammers sometimes pass themselves off as reputable institutions or organizations; at other times they may pose as representatives of government agencies or collection agencies.  Still another ploy is sending links with instructions such as, “Click here to receive your check from the government.”  The recipient, thinking these links are legit and helpful, complies with the instructions. 

Once they have clicked, however, the scammers are able to steal their Social Security number, bank account data, and other information.  And armed with this data, they can steal their identities, money, or both.  A variation of this scam is robo-callers - people pretending to be federal employees who ask for confidential information in order to send promised government checks. 

Back in 2008 and 2009, con artists took advantage of the plummeting prices on Wall Street by selling fake CDs, private placements, non-publicly traded real estate deals, and other schemes involving gold and silver, according to CNBC.  “Now they are using the plunging prices on Wall Street as a tool to push investment schemes that are supposedly safer and more profitable than the stock market,” CNBC adds.

Some crooks want to carry out crimes on a much grander scale.  The passage of federal legislation to mitigate the economic impact of the virus “brings an inevitable feeding frenzy of fraudsters, corrupt officials, liars, and cheats to the government trough,” says Frank Figliuzzi, former FBI assistant director for counterintelligence. 

Snake Oil Rx

While scientists and researchers around the world are working feverishly to find a solution to this horrible plague, a growing number of swindlers are already selling a large variety of “cures” and related products.   

NBC News has uncovered numerous websites selling alleged coronavirus test kits, often for outrageous amounts of money.  The Federal Trade Commission and Food and Drug Administration have sent warnings to seven companies for selling phony products that claim they could cure the virus - products that are not only illegal and useless, but that “pose significant risks to patient health.” 

It’s being reported that hackers will attempt to steal checks sent to the public by the government’s stimulus package.  And it’s a sure bet that if they haven’t already done so, crooks will very soon begin pushing phony charities that supposedly will help those who have taken ill and their families.  Of course, the only beneficiaries of the funds raised will be the crooks and their bank books.  

According to AARP, coronavirus scams are mushrooming.  Check Point, a cybersecurity firm, notes that coronavirus websites - those with the words “coronavirus” or “covid” in the domain name - are 50 percent more likely to be malicious than other domains.  And someone who clicks on an email or downloads a file these phony websites send can open a program that will either use your computer’s internet connection to spread more malware or search your personal files for passwords and related information.

The Federal Trade Commission recommends the following to avoid getting conned and ripped off.  Keep these tips in mind when using computers, phones, text messages, and emails:

*If a caller you don’t recognize tells you press any number on your phone, don’t.

*Hang up on robocalls that pitch everything from coronavirus treatments to work-at-home schemes.

*Ignore online offers for vaccinations and home test kits, as there are no authorized products such as these that are available at this time.

*There are a lot of fraudulent schemes out there, so contact reliable sources before you share messages, data, and instructions. 

*Make sure you know who you are buying from.  Online sellers may claim to have certain products that are in great demand such as cleaning, household, and medical supplies, when, in fact, they don’t. 

*Do not respond to texts and emails about economic stimulus checks from the government.

*Do not click on links from sources you don’t know, as they could download viruses into your computer or related device. 

Money is becoming increasingly difficult to make and at the same time the need for financial assistance is skyrocketing.  When making charitable contributions be extra vigilant that it reaches the intended parties.

sources: aarp.orgcnbc.comftc.govnbcnews.comphishing.org

Gerald Harris is a financial and feature writer. Gerald can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.