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COVID-19 scams are targeting seniors

"There are lovely people doing lovely things to help. But there are others posing as helpers."

DENVER — There are new COVID-19 scams targeting seniors, and the Denver District Attorney's Office wants people to be aware of it. 

Carolyn A. Tyler, communication director for the DA's Office, said they received a report that two seniors were approached separately by complete strangers in grocery stores. The strangers came up to them and offered to shop and deliver groceries to their homes. 

Both seniors were described as being elderly and frail.

> The video above is from 9NEWS sister station WMFY and explores some of the common coronavirus-related scams.

One of these seniors had agreed to let the person come to their apartment and get their shopping list, Tyler said. Neither was asked for money, and neither knew what the arrangement would be. 

However, Tyler said, giving strangers your address, access to your home or your debit card could be very hazardous. Many seniors are not familiar with store delivery or online shopping and may have a lot of trepidation about going out to the store at this time.

RELATED: Colorado coronavirus latest March 23-25

Tyler said they are advising seniors to consult first with family, friends or trusted community groups. More tech-savvy family members may be able to place grocery orders for them or pick up essentials from the store. Many stores are now offering senior-only hours.

RELATED: Senior hours: Colorado grocery stores make adjustments amid coronavirus outbreak

9NEWS spoke with Mara Casparian, director of community engagement for the Denver DA’s Office, about scammers working amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

(Editor's note: This interview has been edited for context and clarity.)

9NEWS: What should people be on the lookout for in the midst of this COVID-19 crisis in terms of being smart consumers and avoiding being scammed?

Casparian: I think the No. 1 thing that consumers need to know is to be aware that scams exist and are escalating.  If you know they exist, then you can be on the alert for them. 

The No. 2 thing is, while all of us are very smart and we’re all good at our work, scammers are professionals as well. So know that they will do their best to get money from you, to get your information from you, to get all the personal information from you. That’s what they’re after. 

What kinds of things are you seeing?

Casparian: There are a lot of fake emails that are happening, so be very concerned and very careful what you click on and what you respond to. Go to the source of what you want – go to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) directly. If there is something new, don’t just arbitrarily click on something on Facebook or on an email that you get. If you want to learn something go directly to the sources.

Make sure what you’re clicking on is accurate. Check the URL; it can always be transferred and transformed into malware or some virus.

What about purchasing – N95 masks for example?

Casparian: I guess the first thing I’d say just in the protection of our health care workers is if you don’t need an N95 mask, if you can protect yourself by just sheltering and staying indoors, do that and let the professionals have those N95s.

If you need one, check the URL of the site, then specifically go down the list of things that are saying what an N95 mask is. There are tons of ripoff ones. If you look up a source, don’t buy the cheapest one for crying out loud, that is not when you want to save money. But scammers are trying to scam us out of hundreds and hundreds of dollars for these things. 

Be careful. But specifically, watch when you are clicking something on a URL even if you’re doing a search. Malware is popping up everywhere with these types of things.

What else do you want people to know? 

Casparian: I want people to know that there are certain things to be aware of with fraud. 

  1. Know who you’re dealing with. 
  2. If you’re buying something, say, on Craigslist or something – I’d really kind of avoid Craigslist right now – but be specifically knowing who you’re dealing with. 
  3. If someone calls you and asks for your information and you’re not expecting this call, hang up. 
  4. If you don’t recognize the phone number, hang up. Don’t call that number back and wait for the message. If there’s no message, it’s probably a scammer. 
  5.  If an email comes to you through Messenger or Facebook, check with your friend first before you click on the thing your friend sent you.
  6. Don’t open up suspicious texts or emails. If something pops up on your internet, do not click on that. 
  7. Keeping your security and your malware and your firewalls secure is hygiene like washing your hands now. Wash – keep your computer clean and free of all the malware you could be bringing in.

It has escalated in such a way that I’m getting emails from the FBI, from the attorney general’s office, from – from everywhere – that this escalation of scams has not been seen in a long time. 

There are lovely people doing lovely things to help. But there are others posing as helpers. I have been in the eldercare and abuse world for some time, and I’m getting emails for adult abuse that some elder folks are getting scammed through public forums like Nextdoor and craigslist saying, “we will run errands for you.”

To be safe, if you need assistance with groceries or such, call a neighbor, ask a friend, ask your church. Do business with folk you already know.


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