Coronavirus Scams on the Rise | Adviser Investments

Don’t Get Duped: Coronavirus Scams on the Rise

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The scale of this pandemic, and the global response to it, have been unprecedented in modern times, and trying simply to follow the news can be overwhelming. We here at Adviser Investments are working hard to help you cut through the clutter and keep up to date with solid information and reasoned analysis about the virus, its impact on your portfolio and our own response, including:

In addition, all the resources we’ve gathered in response to the pandemic, including our podcasts, blog posts, special reports and a video from CEO Dan Silver can be found on our Coronavirus Response homepage. Check back throughout the week to see our most recent insights.


Coronavirus Scams You Need on Your Radar

As surely as the sun rises in the east, you can expect to see schemers trying to take advantage of people during desperate or confusing times. The COVID-19 outbreak has been no different.

We’ve been tracking how online scammers have adapted their techniques to the age of social distancing and virus fears. Unfortunately, it’s more important than ever to be vigilant online and take a second look at deals that sound too good to be true. The Federal Trade Commission has already received nearly 17,000 coronavirus-related complaints from every state in the country. Here are some to keep aware of:

Bogus At-Home Tests: The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) recently reported that it’s seeing a spike in sellers hawking kits for COVID-19 self-testing at home.

COVID-19 testing is only being conducted by medical professionals. Any test kit you see online is fraudulent—manufacturers of FDA-approved testing kits do not sell directly to consumers. These phony kits can cost you more than money; they can also result in patients delaying necessary medical care or treatment.

The temptation of having the peace of mind provided by at-home testing is understandable. For the time being, it’s also too good to be true. Cast the same skeptical eye on “miracle” cures—a vaccine is likely months away.

Sham “Mandatory Testing”: Shady characters posing as employees of the Department of Health and Human Services or a similar government agency have been sending texts and emails asking you to click on a link in order to take a “required” online test or register for COVID-19 testing. This is a hoax—instead, they’re looking to swipe your personal, financial or medical information.

The Fake Diagnosis: A classic phone con has been updated for the times. You may have read our previous coverage of con artists who call and ask for a wire transfer to pay for a relative’s urgent medical care. Now we’re seeing reports of phone calls that look like they’re coming from a medical or government official saying that a loved one is being treated for COVID-19 in the hospital—and needs someone to pay for their medical care immediately. They’ll even ask for payment via wire transfer or, even more brazenly, a gift card. Just hang up the phone.

Relief Payment Swindles: The CARES Act signed into law on March 27 provides one-time cash payments to eligible citizens. (Click here for our coverage of the new legislation, including individual eligibilities.) But keep in mind that these funds will be distributed by check or direct deposit—the government will not ask you to pay upfront to receive your cut. Only a fraudster will call you asking for your Social Security number, bank account or credit card information in connection with the stimulus cash.

There are also schemers who may contact you promising to speed up your “stimulus” payment. That word is a red flag; the official government term is “economic-impact payment.”

Fake Travel Insurance: Beware of any so-called insurance agents peddling new travel insurance that specifically covers COVID-19-related problems with future travel. The majority of travel insurance policies do not cover pandemics (though some legitimate providers have extended coverage to coronavirus-related cancellations). If this applies to you, go with your trusted provider, not pop-up ads or phone solicitors.

Phony Fundraising: The Better Business Bureau has warned that there’s been a rise in “crowdfunding” for people affected by stay-at-home policies, cancellations and closures caused by social distancing. There’s been no shortage of people needing help, and there’ve been many truly inspiring stories of communities coming together to help those in need. From continuing school lunch programs to helping workers in the hospitality industry pay the rent, uplifting stories of generosity have deservedly garnered a lot of attention in the news and on social media.

Unfortunately, crooks have taken notice. Con artists can use platforms like GoFundMe to fool donors and steal their money for personal use. Make sure to do your research before donating to any person or cause. Just because there’s an appealing photo or heart-wrenching tale of need doesn’t mean the campaign is legitimate; emotional images and appeals are common because they work. Instead, try to give only to individuals or organizations you know and trust. Don’t include any personal information. And it may sound obvious, but take extra caution if a charity is insisting that you act fast, and especially if they request payment from prepaid debit cards or gift cards.

“Pump-and-Dump” Investment Schemes: The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has reported a rise in investment fraudsters offering false “inside information” about companies working on vaccines or cures. Don’t entertain any offers asking you to send money right away for once-in-a-lifetime investments in companies manufacturing tests, vaccines or other medical treatments. They can arrive via phone, email, social media or TV, raring to separate you from your money. The people making the pitches have already bought the stocks they’re hyping, and as they convince credulous investors to buy, the price climbs and they sell the stock, leaving mom-and-pop investors with big losses.

The SEC has said that it’s committing “substantial resources” to helping prevent do-it-yourself investors from getting swindled. But your own alertness is the best defense.

Email Phishing From the “CDC”: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is a leading provider of useful information and actions to take related to preventing COVID-19’s spread. And we certainly understand the appeal of the latest information from experts who know what they’re talking about. But beware of any email that arrives with this convincing-looking internet domain, “,” in the email address. An actual email from the health agency would have in its address (note the small but critical difference).

The email says that the CDC has “established a management system to coordinate a domestic and international public health response” and asks recipients to click on a page with the latest information about infection rates in their locality. The link even features the correct CDC website in the text.

Clicking the link will prompt you to provide your email login and password, which are then sent to crooks who can get into your account and prowl for valuable personal or financial information.

To defend against this scam and others like it that appear to be coming from government officials, note the sender’s email address (lacking the .gov suffix) and hover your mouse over the link before clicking to ensure it’s actually from a .gov website. When in doubt, don’t click.

Be Safe: At Adviser Investments, we have security measures in place to prevent any unauthorized access to our clients’ accounts. We’ve worked closely with our account custodians to set up procedures for the wiring and transfer of money, which greatly limits the potential for fraud. We also follow up on any suspicious communications, confirm any unusual requests and always adhere to the instructions clients have given us for handling their accounts.

The notion of getting duped online is upsetting, but the experience is all too common. This is why vigilance is important, particularly when fear and uneasy sentiments are running high. Please give us a call if you’d like to know more, have any questions or if we can reassure you about your online safety (or any other concern you may have).


RMDs and the CARES Act 

For many retirees, this may be the best news yet out of the current economic and market dislocations. The recently enacted CARES Act has provided much needed relief to many individuals, families and businesses. As part of this stimulus package, required minimum distribution (RMD) withdrawals have been waived for 2020 for all tax-advantaged retirement accounts, including traditional IRAs, SEP IRAs, SIMPLE IRAs, beneficiary IRAs, 401(k) plans, 403(b) plans and government-sponsored 457(b) plans. Both plan owners and beneficiaries may elect to waive RMDs if they desire.

Electing to forgo your RMD for 2020 will help reduce your taxable income and leave more money in your account to cover future cash flow needs or simply to continue growing over time. Please make sure to review with your accountant to see how this may impact your annual tax liability if you are paying quarterly estimated payments to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

If you currently receive monthly or periodic distributions throughout the year, you may want to consider adjusting how you receive your distributions. If you arranged to take your distributions at the end of the year and have time to consider whether you would like to forgo your distribution, there is no rush to make any changes at this time. Check in with your financial adviser prior to your distribution to help you work through your plan for 2020.

As of this writing, the IRS’ most recent guidance provides that RMD distributions made between February 1 and May 15 can be “rolled back” into your IRA by July 15. (Any distributions taken in January are not covered.) If you take your RMDs in monthly installments from an IRA, you can only deposit one such withdrawal back into an IRA.

For more on the CARES Act’s effect on RMDs, including rules for inherited IRAs, qualified charitable distributions and tax planning, click here.

There’s still a lot to absorb from the CARES Act, and we’ll continue to provide details on how the changes may affect you in the weeks to come. But if you have any questions regarding how the new RMD rules apply to you specifically, please get in touch with us. We are happy to assist.


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