OMAHA, Neb. — Throughout the pandemic, scammers have tried to turn miseries into opportunities for thievery. AARP reports that more than 601,000 consumers complained of scams related to COVID-19 and stimulus payments. The cost to these individuals has been $558.7 million.

“Scamming clearly pays, and this epidemic of theft is unthwarted by vaccines,” said BBB Regional CEO Jim Hegarty. “We’re seeing an upsurge in crooks impersonating well-known companies as they claim to offer pandemic-related discounts.”

So, what’s a conscientious consumer to do? How should one respond, if at all, to the “offers” coming in regularly to the many Americans who are already cash-strapped and on the watch for ways to save?

Here’s some advice from the BBB.

What scammers are trying:

Here are the kinds of text messages coming into consumers from scammers:

• “COVID-19 REFUND. VERIZON COMPANY is giving out $950 to all users of our Verizon service, if yes kindly text your Verizon” BBB says look carefully: all those upper-case letters and the grammatical mistakes should instantly flag this message as a fraud. Companies like Verizon are professional and would edit all such amateurish errors out of any correspondence. (Plus, what’s up with a word like “kindly” inserted in a request? This is a red flag of a non-English speaking scammer in a foreign country.)

• “Due to the pandemic, Hulu is giving everyone a free 1-year subscription to help you stay at home. Get yours here [link].” BBB says: Does this sort of tactic (giving everyone a free 1-year subscription in a country with 328 million people) sound like something a company seeking profits would do? No matter how philanthropic Hulu may be, such an offer seems too generous for them to survive.

Their goal:

What these crooks want is for you to click on a link. You’ll then be prompted to log into a website that’s designed to look like the real company’s site. It is easy to add the graphics to a scammer’s website to make it look official.

Once you are there, you’re asked to log in so scammers can steal your password information and use it to steal your money. They will then access your accounts and make purchases by using your saved payment methods.

So far, the reports to BBB have involved scammers impersonating Hulu, Verizon and Netflix. Other companies are sure to be impersonated as well.

Your defense:

Here are some things to remember for avoiding scams:

• If you have not given a company permission to text you, any text you receive from someone claiming to be that company is a fraud. Any text you receive from a number not recognized is suspicious.

• If a deal looks appealing, go instead to the company’s real website (via an online search) and email or call them to inquire about it.

• Never click on links from strangers. Such links can lead to dangerous websites or download malware onto your device.

• Keep your antivirus software up to date. You can be alerted before opening a malicious link with such protection.

For more information: Your Better Business Bureau stands ready to answer your questions and address your concerns. Contact your BBB at (800) 856-2417 or visit bbb.org.

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