(PEORIA) WEEK - As if regular scam calls aren't bad enough, now scammers are preying on your vulnerability and fears about protecting personal assets during the COVID-19 crisis; so much so that Central Illinois Better Business Bureau has seen an increase in scam tracker reports.
BBB CEO and President, Jessica Tharp warns residents to beware of too good to be true 'exclusive' offers. For example, deals from fake drug manufacturers.
"They claim the government has this vaccine, but they're keeping it under wraps, but you can get access to it - just enter your credit card here." Tharp explained.
Don't do that. For the record, the FDA has not approved any virus vaccines yet.
Tharp also says another major red flag?... financial aid requests from government institutions.
"CDC is the main one being impersonated. We're getting reports of people getting emails that look like they're from the CDC, maybe talking about the Coronavirus, or research that they've done, maybe even asking for donations." Again she explained, organizations like the Centers for Disease Control, FBI, etc will not ask for any sort of online payment.
Tharp does however, acknowledge that more online offers popping up isn't uncommon in this era of social distancing. People just need to vet them like they would anything else.
"Take a good look at who you're doing business with. Are they even in the United States? What is their return policy? What is the delivery policy? How are they protecting your credit card data?" These are all questions she says consumers should be asking in any situation, not just a national health crisis.
Perhaps just as important as the technical tips, are your instincts too.
Several local residents told 25 News they'd experienced an increase in spam calls, automated solicitations, foreign offers and COVID related scams, with unidentified people or businesses pushing them to purchase services to protect their finances, health or other assets.
One North Peoria resident Jessica Perham said someone called her husband claiming to be from Aetna. She wasn't exactly sure if they were legitimate or not, but they were extremely pushy.
"They kept trying to get him to listen to their sales pitch." Perham said, after her husband repeatedly declined the salesperson's offer for additional healthcare coverage on top of what he already had.
Luckily the Perhams just hung up and ignored on the unknown representative after constant badgering, but for others who may be nervous about being fooled, Tharp says the BBB is up and running.
Of all the businesses who have closed or abbreviated hours or, they are not one of them. In fact, Tharp laid out, their office is standing by to help point residents and businesses in the right direction amid so much confusion.
- "This is how I address unemployment."
- "This is how I need to communicate my marketing. "
- "This is how I manage my employees."
- "How do I be a leader when everybody's at home?"
- "Here are the webinar dates that the small business administration is having on how this whole financial assistance thing works."
Tharp explained while many people know BBB for cracking down on scams and rating businesses, they are so much more; offering counseling to businesses and residents when they just don't know where to turn for help.
"During this crisis the Better Business Bureau is 110% available, accessible, ready and willing to help you with whatever you need." Tharp says they are equipped with the tools to help consumers navigate this ever changing era, adding that none of their services are slowed down or reduced.
Central Illinois Better Business Bureau is available one 24/7 and by telephone weekdays from 8am-4pm.