Several new scams are making their way around central Virginia as the COVID-19 outbreak has spawned a new group of scammers and schemes.

Some of the current scams circulating are fake charities, government imposters and banking scams.

The coronavirus crisis, like many natural disasters, is a prime time for scammers to invent phony charities and create well-designed websites and use direct mail, email and telemarketing to contact potential victims. Scammers also can pose as representatives from real charities. The AARP advises donors to research any charity to which they want to contribute. The IRS has a database of organizations that have 501(c) 3 status and organizations like Charity Watch and Charity Navigator rate non-profits on accountability, efficiency and fundraising.

AARP also warns people to beware of high-pressure tactics; legitimate organizations welcome your donation anytime and won’t pressure you to give right away. Other red flags that you are dealing with a fraudulent organization are a thank-you for a donation you haven’t made and requests for payment by cash, gift cards or wire transfers—all methods that are hard for law enforcement officers to trace.

The Federal Trade Commission also recommends an online search using the charity’s name or a cause pairing with terms like “highly rated,” “scam” or “customer complaints.”

Another common scam is a government imposter scam where someone pretending to be part of the IRS, Medicare or Social Security Administration calls demanding payment or claiming that something has compromised your account. The scammer demands payment or tries to get sensitive private information such as Social Security numbers or bank account numbers. Most government agencies contact citizens first by mail and never request money over the phone.

According to former F.B.I. Special Agent Jerry Butler, scammers often target small, rural areas and frequently prey on the elderly.

“Beware of anyone that asks for private information, or e-mails that contain grammatical errors,” said Butler. “Legitimate businesses do not ask for sensitive information or access to your computer. One common scam we have been seeing is where callers identifying as IRS agents threaten you with a summons if you don’t pay immediately. The IRS just doesn’t operate this way and you can be assured this is a scam. The IRS almost always contacts people by mail, not phone or e-mail, and will not demand payment over the phone. They will not contact you asking for verification of information to send a stimulus check or demand a fee to receive your stimulus payment.”

For people interested in learning about their eligibility for the stimulus check the IRS has posted information on its website

Butler advises that it is important to pay attention to details because often it is a small mistake that will clue you in to potential fraud.

“Grammatical errors, bad English or something that just seems off are all clues that an e-mail might be fraudulent,” said Butler. “Don’t open anything you aren’t sure about. Learn the technology, learn about your phone and computer. It is often the best protection.”

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