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Coronavirus Scams

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When it comes to healthcare or pandemics, senior citizens are often targeted by scammers looking to steal money from those who are vulnerable. Awhile back, two dozen people, including doctors and owners of medical equipment companies, were charged in a more than $1 billion healthcare scam.

The theft ring specifically targeted elderly and disabled people by setting them up with back, neck and knee braces that they didn’t need.

An investigation by multiple federal agencies discovered that medical brace manufacturers were allegedly paying kickbacks and bribes to doctors working with fraudulent telemedicine companies in exchange for Medicare patient referrals for unnecessary equipment.

The scammers laundered the illegally obtained profits through international shell companies and used the money to buy exotic cars, yachts and luxury real estate.

As part of the scheme, doctors were paid to prescribe braces to patients they had no relationship with. Prescriptions frequently came after doctors had brief conversations via phone or video conference with patients they had never met.

As a result of the scheme, the personal information of hundreds of thousands of Medicare beneficiaries was compromised. According to Sherri Lydon, U.S. attorney for the district of South Carolina, “All taxpayers will endure the rising cost of health care premiums and out-of-pocket costs as a result of fraud on our Medicare system.”

One man, who lives in Rochester, N.Y., said he received a box of unwanted back and knee braces sent by a medical supply company in Florida and prescribed by a doctor in another state. Medicare was charged nearly $3,000 for the unneeded medical equipment.

As many as 130 medical equipment companies were implicated in the scam that resulted in a total of $1.2 billion in losses. The investigation was carried out by the FBI, the IRS, and 17 U.S. attorney’s offices.

Considering how often scammers target those who vulnerable, the coronavirus has been the latest ruse for scammers who are exploiting the public’s desire for information about the outbreak, so here are the latest coronavirus scams to watch out for.

Fake vaccine. One of the newest scams primarily targets senior citizens, the population most at risk from a serious illness from the coronavirus. The way the scam works is victims receive a telephone call from someone claiming to work for their local health department.

The scammer tells the victim that their dose of coronavirus vaccine is ready and they just need to provide personal information including their date of birth, address, and social security number.

Of course, there is no vaccine yet for the public for the coronavirus. If you receive this phone call or anything like it from a person trying to gain information, hang up.

Imposter websites. A major source of information on the coronavirus is the World Health Organization (WHO), which is among the most-impersonated websites by cyber criminals.

Basically, hackers pretend to offer important information about the virus in an attempt to get victims to click on malicious links. Typically, the website links install malware, steal personal information or attempt to capture login and password information.

These types of scams also involve fake e-mails that pretend to be from the WHO, but the scammers are trying to get the victim to click on a malicious link. The best thing to do is never click on emails you get from the WHO or who you get from any health organizations. (Instead, just go to the website yourself if you wish to go to it.)

Charity. At a time like a pandemic we should remember to care for one another, especially those who are less fortunate. However, another common scam doing the rounds asks you to help “the children.”

Basically, the scammers call or e-mail you and tell you that you can help fund the vaccine for children or can help purchase basic living supplies such as fresh water for children in areas where supplies are scarce.

Typically, people who receive the coronavirus-themed emails or phone calls are asked to send money online or to provide credit card information over the phone. Despite this technique being only effective for a small number of the victims, when done on a global scale it can be lucrative for criminals.

Unfortunately, worldwide emergencies offer opportunities for con artists and scammers to launch fraudulent campaigns that feed off and cash in on the current climate of concern around the globe.

Make sure your family members are aware of the scams occurring so they protect themselves from the thieves making money off of those who are suffering.

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