November 30, 2021

Local agencies warn of coronavirus scams

man with internet devices


Coronavirus scams may be new, but the end result remains the same, according to Cortland city police Lt. Michael Strangeway.

“Any time there’s money to be made, there will be criminals trying to trick people out of their money,” Strangeway said Tuesday.

Cortland County agencies are watching and alerting residents about scams targeting people during the virus’ pandemic. Scams to county residents have mostly been by phone, Strangeway said. Scammers have called people saying they have items sought after in the wake of the coronavirus like testing kits or some even claiming to have a cure and can provide them to the receiver if the receiver provides sensitive personal information like credit card or Social Security numbers.

Some may also claim they are with a charity, he said.

“A lot of these people can be very convincing,” he said.

“There is no truth to these and these people are out for nothing except to steal your money or identification.”

Strangeway said he hasn’t received reports of people in the city having their money or identification taken from them but still wants people to be aware of the scams.

Information regarding scams will be turned over to the state Attorney General’s Office, which may prosecute the scammers.

State level investigations are needed because of the long distance range that scamming can happen in, Strangeway said. “A lot of these cases are hard to prosecute locally,” he said. “A lot of the bad guys in these cases are not working locally.”

Tips for identifying scams

With scammers using the coronavirus pandemic as an opportunity to steal money or valuable information, here are tips on what to look for in scams.

  • People claiming they have treatments or cures to COVID-19.
  • Being pressured into making donations to charities in the form of cash, gift cards or money transfers.
  • Receiving information or tips through text messages or emails on COVID-19 from organizations users did not sign up for.
  • For health care workers: Emails claiming to be from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with treatments of COVID-19 or emails from hospital staff claiming that deliveries have been stopped so that a link must be opened to continue deliveries.
    Source: New York State Office of the Attorney General

Scams are a normal occurrence but the frequency seems to have intensified in the wake of COVID 19, said Elizabeth Haskins, the director for the Cortland County Area Agency on Aging.

“We were battling scams before this happened and now it seems even worse,” she said.

Like Strangeway, Haskins said that she hasn’t had any reports of people in Cortland County saying they have been scammed, yet, but she has heard reports of scams from the state’s Office for the Aging in Albany.

These have included scammers going door to door claiming to have coronavirus testing kits, cures and protective gear to be paid by Medicare, she said. Most of the scamming for older residents targets their Medicare.

“Our bottom line is don’t give your Medicare number out and be cautious of people coming door to door,” she said.

Haskins recommends people review their Medicare bills to make sure everything seems right. The Cortland County Area Agency on Aging can help residents determine if they are being scammed or have been scammed, Haskins said. If people have been scammed, the agency will work with them to find resources like legal counsel.

“We’re here to help any way we can,” she said.

For people looking to donate to charities during the pandemic, Eric Mulvihill, the clerk for the Cortland County Legislature and the county’s records access officer, and the county’s 211 information service recommend donating to the United Way for Cortland County as money will go to its local nonprofits partners like many of those helping during the pandemic.

Mulvihill said, though, that donations should be made by people voluntarily and not from people being pressured with phone calls by someone claiming to be from a charity.

This advice applies to other organizations as well, he said. “No agency will ask you for anything.”