Montanans warned to be on the lookout for COVID-19 scams

Posted at 7:12 AM, Jul 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-28 09:12:37-04

HELENA — In times of crisis, people often come together to help each other out.

However, there have been some individuals taking advantage of people during the global COVID-19 pandemic

“Unfortunately the scammers and the fraud artists look for opportunities during a crisis, when there’s fear and concern, to, unfortunately, prey on our citizens,” said Montana Attorney General Tim Fox.

The Montana Department of Justice has received reports of a wide variety of scams trying to exploit the pandemic.

“We’ve seen everything from price gouging to people posing as federal officials that say they can help you get your PPE loan or other funding,” said Fox.

Fox noted that no agency will contact people saying they’ve been approved for a loan or grant unsolicited and people need to apply themselves before a legitimate source will contact them. Montanans have also received calls from individuals impersonating COVID contact tracers.

“They may ask you for more information and that’s your key to know that they’re likely a scammer. They may ask for your Social Security number, don’t give it. They may ask for personal banking information, or a credit card or seek payment for their services,” said Fox.

Real contact tracers with health departments will call people to let them know they may have been exposed to COVID-19, but will only ask for a person’s name and address. Many coronavirus tests are at no cost or covered by a person’s insurance. If there are costs associated with a test, that will be addressed at the testing site.

Additionally, those reentering the workforce should also be careful of scammers.

The Better Business Bureau reports employment scams have been some of the riskiest scams in recent years, especially for individuals who are already struggling after losing their job to COVID.

“According to our data nearly 75% of the people who were caught in an employment scam already did not have the money to cover their bills,” said Hannah Stiff, BBB Montana Marketplace director. “Additionally, 53% of the people we talked to said they were looking for a job because they didn’t have one. So if they’re getting taken advantage of, often with dire monetary consequences, it is extremely hard to recover.”

Job seekers should always ensure the website they’re submitting their application to is legitimate. People should never follow a link emailed or texted to them, or click on a web ad that claims to be offering employment. Those sites can be “spoofed” to look like a legitimate business, but are only interested in collecting personal information.

Local job service offices can also assist individuals in finding work with a credible employer.

“Reach out to Job Service or visit our website to lookup more information about the business,” said Stiff. “Do that research to make sure you land with a company that will treat you right, and avoid the perils of being caught in one fo these employment scams.”

Legitimate businesses will never ask for payment for a job so people should beware if the site is asking for processing fees for their application, training fees or needing to pay for job supplies.

Stuff also told MTN News that military families are often targets of scammers and is urging people to be wary of places that specifically call out a need for veteran workers.

“Twenty-percent of military members that fell for an employment scam lost money,” said Stiff. “That’s more than the average consumer, and the dollar lost can ratchet up into the thousands with a military victim.”

Anyone who believes they have been contacted by a scammer or is the victim of a scam should file a complaint with the Montana Office of Consumer Protection.