Fraud Watch

The author says not to be fooled by a gift card scam in which a caller notifies you of a refund you have earned and all you need to do is purchase a $100 debit card and the refund will be deposited on the card.

Several months have passed since this column addressed scams related to COVID-19. Sadly, as the victim count climbs, so do the number of scams being perpetrated by criminals. Let’s begin with a piece of good news, tempered by a warning.

For the first time, a home test for COVID-19 is available to the general public. The current, reliable, legitimate tests are available online and from a number of retailers, including Costco. A full list of the available products can be found on the Food and Drug Administration website. As of Oct. 1, these tests cost between $100 and $160 each. Beware.

Any test kits available from online merchants for significantly less money is likely a scam. Keep in mind the adage: “If it’s to good to be true. ... ” Do your homework if you are serious about conducting home testing. Verify the identity and reliability of the manufacturer and the vendor using valid, neutral sources. Finally, check with local medical facilities, as many offer testing that is free or covered by medical insurances.

As the pandemic grinds on, the intensity of the telephone and online scams increases. Don’t expect that this will abate during the winter. As stated at other times, vigilance is necessary. Most households are facing financial difficulties and seek any relief available. Here are some of the most dangerous financial scams:

• Work-at-home scam: A lucrative offer is made for a job that involves only a few hours of work in return for significant pay. All you need to do is pay $200 for the employment kit.

No. Unless you are hiring an employment agency to job hunt, there should be no fees for applying for or obtaining a job, and in the case of agencies, the fee is often obtained from the pay received by the worker. Also, be hesitant to provide a detailed resume. These are easy to use in identity theft.

• Clinical trials: Thousands of Americans have volunteered to participate in COVID-related clinical trials. The call or email asks for the test subject to pay a registration fee and/or forward personal information, such as Social Security number or Medicare number.

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No. Participants in clinical tests are recruited by pharmaceutical companies and paid, albeit a small amount, for participation. If you are serious about participation, conduct an online search of the clinical trial and its contact information. Connect with your state health department for any unbiased information; Massachusetts: 617-624-6000; New York: 866-881-2809; Vermont: 800-464-4343.

• Social media scams: Predators are tech-savvy. As more Americans turn to social media to communicate with others, these platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and others, as well as dating websites such as eharmony or SilverSingles, become great opportunities for those seeking to harvest personal data and steal money. Once again, caution is urged.

With social media, review your privacy settings and limit what is shared publicly. Before making any purchases, do some research into the company making the offer to determine legitimacy. Take the slow road with online friendships or romance. That 35-year-old perfect match for you can easily be a 50-year-old con artist hiding behind a stock photo; the 71-year-old retiree in Florida could be a 20-something in Mubai.

• Gift card scams: The call notifies you of a refund you have earned. All you need to do is purchase a $100 debit card and the refund will be deposited on the card.

No. Businesses issuing refunds will refund the amount to an account, write a check, or send you a gift card. (Thank you Shirley Squires for your phone call).

I’ve described the “tip of the iceberg” and will cover other COVID-related scams going forward. Think this is not a big deal? The Federal Trade Commission reported $134 million in consumer losses in 2019. In just the first six months of 2020, the amount is $117 million, and that is just the tip of the iceberg.

Questions, concerns, comments? Contact me at

Elliott Greenblott is a retired educator and coordinator of the AARP Vermont Fraud Watch Network. He hosts a CATV program, “Mr. Scammer,” distributed by GNAT-TV in Sunderland, Vt.,