Every morning there is a new string of COVID-19 scam warnings hitting my inbox. They’re coming from the Illinois Attorney General’s Office, Federal Trade Commission, U.S. Census, IRS, Social Security, Immigration, and Better Business Bureau offices from across the county.

These crafty scammers are shape shifters. They’re changing their tactics and their messages with every updated news report.

With millions of people out of work the scammers know the financial need is great and that the federal economic stimulus payments are coming. That knowledge prompted a “Consumer Alert” from the Attorney General’s Office warning of scam attacks.

Because of the confusion about eligibility and when the financial assistance will be available, we at the Better Business Bureau have issued similar warnings.

Remember, you don’t have to pay money. There is no need to provide personal information first. You don’t need to apply. Don’t pay anyone to help you file for stimulus money.

Friday, the FTC issued a Medicare scam warning. Targeting senior citizens, the scammers are calling and leaving voicemail messages offering things like a “COVID-19 kit,” “Coronavirus package” or benefits related to the virus. If you respond you’ll be asked for money, personal information or both. So, don’t respond.

I received an email from a Rockford resident curious about an email she had received from a company with whom she has never done business. The company is offering to sell face masks and other protective gear.

There’s reason to be concerned. Medical professionals have recommended that we wear protective face masks; according to a nonprofit volunteer group, Scam Directory, it has identified over 300 phony online sites. The scam sites are offering to sell masks and other protective gear but they’ll never deliver.

Along with illness and death the virus has caused fear and uncertainty. That has provided fertile ground for the bad guys.

Being prepared to know a scam when you see or hear one has never been more important. Do these things when you get a suspicious call, text, email, or letter and you can avoid being a victim:

• Think twice before you click. If you receive an unsolicited text or email from someone you don’t know asking you to click on a link, don’t do it. Scammers are using links and attachments that will download malware onto your electronic devices and steal personal information.

• Don’t accept calls from strangers. Con artists may call your home claiming to work for the government or a health care system. Remember, neither the government nor any health care-related agencies make unsolicited calls to individuals. 

• Avoid any “miracle” cures. Some scammers have been advertising miraculous cures and secret government vaccines. The claims are false. There are no FDA-approved vaccines or drugs to prevent coronavirus, and no approved vaccines, drugs, or products specifically for curing coronavirus available for purchase online or in stores.

• Watch out for employment and unemployment scams. If you are looking for work and find an online job offer that sounds too good to be true, beware. If you find yourself unemployed, only apply for unemployment benefits through official channels: otherwise, your personal information will be at risk.

• Research before you donate. If you feel compelled to support a coronavirus-related cause with a financial donation, make sure the charity is legitimate. Check with Give.org to verify the trustworthiness of the charity making the ask.

Storm chasers

Last week’s hailstorm is sure to bring out storm chasers. However, be aware that the city of Rockford is not issuing any door-to-door solicitation permits during the stay-at-home order.

Although not all storm chasers are scammers, they often lack the proper licensing, offer quick fixes, or make big promises they can’t deliver. You should always resist high pressure tactics and make sure to research contractors before hiring.

If your property sustained hail damage your best bet is to always use local contractors. To make the task of finding someone you can trust easier, go to bbb.org and click on the request a quote link.

Stay home. Stay safe.

Dennis Horton is director of the Rockford Regional Office of the Better Business Bureau.