Scams on the Rise: Protecting Your Personal Information

with Sally Greenberg of the National Consumers League

As Americans continue to spend more time at home and online during the pandemic, scams are on the rise.

Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of the National Consumers League, shares some of the most common cons, along with tips to protect your personal information.

Posted on:

January 4, 2021

Hosted by: Tetiana Anderson
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Anderson: We are all spending more and more time at home and online due to the pandemic, and cyber criminals are right there with us taking advantage. Hello and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. COVID-19-related scams are on the rise. We're going to fill you in on how to spot some common scams and how to protect your personal information. Joining me to discuss all of this is Sally Greenberg. She is the executive director of the National Consumer League. And Sally, thank you so much for joining us.

Greenberg: Well, thank you so much for the opportunity, Tetiana.

Anderson: So I'd be the first one to say I'm too smart to fall for these scams, but would I be wrong? I mean, is there a specific profile of the victim that these scammers are targeting or is it everybody?

Greenberg: Anyone can fall for these scams. There are psychiatrists, psychologists, engineers, professors. There are working-class people who fall for these scams. It is across the board. So these scammers know what they're doing. They're very good at their work and they have tremendous success across all demographics. So, yes, all of us could be victimized by a scam.

Anderson: So what kinds of scams are we talking about? I mean, there's probably many of them out there.

Greenberg: Sure. Well, we know that there are millions of people newly unemployed, so there's work-at-home scams where you're sent a bunch of materials and told to give a check back and they'll pay you for the various calls that you're making or whatever work you've been assigned to do. And it turns out you're paying them money and you're not given any work. But we also see that there's an upsurge in scams because people are home and older Americans are particularly vulnerable to things like grandparents scams, where they call and they say, you know, "Your grandmother and your grandson is in jail and we need you to pay money to get him out. Don't tell the parents." So that is a very common scam these days, especially now during COVID. We've got pet-adoption scams. People want company in their home. They have the time to take care of an animal. People have fallen victim. Hundreds of thousands of people have fallen victim to pet scams across the country. You pay all this money to folks who introduce you to the dog and then it turns out there's no dog. They're not sending you a dog, but you're sending a lot of money. And then there's gouging and hoarding, which came about because there was this real panic to get personal protective materials, to get masks and hand sanitizer, and they were flying off the shelves. So when you went online to get a lot of these materials, the prices skyrocketed. Gouging is against the law in all 50 states. And there were people marking things up from bleach to hand sanitizer, 200% and 300%. So a lot of state AGs brought cases and they got many complaints about that. Then there are those who hoarded only to gouge at some point in the future. So there's laws against hoarding across the country as well. Now, one red flag, Tetiana, is if you're being asked to send money through -- wiring it through MoneyGram, Western Union or putting it on a gift card of some sort, that's a red flag that it's a scam. Also, family and friends through PayPal is a not protected platform. PayPal itself, if you use it for business to business, is protected. Family and friends is where scammers go to have you send the money because you don't have any protections there. So we're looking at a whole range of new scams and all related to COVID. And we just want to make sure consumers know that there are some red flags to look for. And also there's social isolation now. And we know family members are without their loved ones and they're not interacting with their community. And those are the people we need to really protect. So tell your relatives who may be at home and alone, "Don't pick up the phone and talk to anybody. Don't agree to any deals. Don't get involved in romance scam. These are the red flags."

Anderson: Absolutely, this is valuable information and give us some perspective on how widespread this is. I mean, I know you guys look at some very specific data points that tell you this stuff is happening on a massive level.

Greenberg: Sure. Well, the Federal Trade Commission has logged 140,000 complaints. And that's just the tip of the iceberg because most people do not complain. So we know there's many multiples of that. And they said the average loss is $300. One thing people are finding during COVID is they're sending for stuff and it's not coming. And so watch the platform to buy things on. Use credit cards, because if the product doesn't come, then you can get your money back through a credit card, but not if you use some of these other platforms. The Secret Service is monitoring theft of unemployment checks that went out. Trillions of dollars went out during this crisis. And of course, the scammers know exactly what they're doing. They've also gotten all of our personal information. And you can bet that they have everybody's personal identifying information and they use that to get unemployment checks. They set up an account, and they have those checks sent to them because they have your information. So make sure that you apply for any of these. Or if you didn't get your check, make sure to call the IRS or the Social Security Administration. One more thing I want to add is a federal agency is never going to call you and threaten you and tell you to put money on a gift card or wire money. That's a scam. That's a red flag.

Anderson: And so that leads us to the victim. I mean, the inclination here would probably be to call the police, but you guys say that there is another and a better way. What should people do?

Greenberg: Well, there are several options for people who've been involved in scams and victimized. They can log in with We'll gather all that information and send it to law enforcement. But also the Federal Trade Commission at will take these complaints and they look into them. And if they see patterns, they'll go after various companies or entities that are trying to scam or defraud people.

Anderson: Sally Greenberg, National Consumers League, thank you so much for joining us.

Greenberg: Thank you, Tetiana.

Anderson: And thanks to our viewers as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, be sure to visit I'm Tetiana Anderson.

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