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Common Coronavirus Scams


Technology Scams

One of the most popular scams affecting older adults in San Mateo County involves fraudsters acting as computer techs reaching out to consumers claiming that their devices are infected with viruses – and for a small fee paid immediately, the fraudsters can remove those viruses.

Most commonly, the fraudsters reach out to consumers by calling them over the telephone, but sometimes, this scam involves a pop-up window when surfing the internet or an email from a sender that looks trustworthy.

  • If you are in receipt of an urgent phone call about removal of a virus on your computer, do not believe them! Do not share any personal information with the caller, including your social security number, credit card number or checking account number. Be wary if the “computer tech” wants payment via a wiring service (like Western Union or Moneygram) or through the purchase of gift cards (usually Apple Music/iTunes or
  • If you receive a pop-up message on your computer, ignore the message and close the browser if you can. Be sure to run your antivirus software.
  • If you receive an email, do not click on any links embedded in the email and delete it immediately.
  • Reach out to law enforcement or Adult Protective Services (1-800-675-8437) if you have been a victim of this scam.

Government Representative Scams

Another common scam affecting San Mateo County’s older adults involves fraudsters posing as representatives of legitimate government agencies or business entities, and asking for outstanding  fees or payments to be paid immediately.

These scammers commonly represent themselves as employees of government agencies like the Internal Revenue Service, Social Security Administration, immigration services, or the local county courts. There have been other cases when the fraudsters have claimed associations with local utility companies or other well-known businesses.

  • It is a scam if the person on the other end of the phone asks you to pay a fee or bill via credit card, gift card or money wire urgently in order to resolve an outstanding debt.
  • Do not answer the phone unless you know who is on the other line.
  • Be suspicious if a person reaches out to you via a phone call claiming that they are conducting government business on behalf of a federal agency – these entities will frequently reach out via a letter from the United States Postal Service or other legitimate mail delivery service.
  • A legitimate government agency will never ask you to make a payment immediately via a gift card or money wire. Hang up on these calls immediately.
  • Reach out to law enforcement or Adult Protective Services (1-800-675-8437) if you have been a victim of this scam.

Grandparent Scam

A popular scam often attempted on San Mateo County’s older adults involves contact from a person claiming to be a younger relative who is stuck abroad and needs money immediately in order to get home. Often referred to as the “grandparent scam” or the “stuck abroad” scam, older adults are contacted via phone, email or social media from a loved one claiming to be in jail in a foreign country (and in need of bail money), or recently robbed of their wallets and personal items or otherwise unable to access funds (and in need of money to travel home).

They ask the older adults to wire money or buy gift cards in large amounts in order to help them get home.

It is scary whenever someone claims a loved one is danger – and that is exactly why this scam is so successful. Our first instinct is often to send money immediately in order to help our relative, friend or loved one.

  • If you receive a phone call, social media message or email, stop and breathe for a moment.
  • Do not make available any of your personal information to the caller, including credit card number, checking account number or social security number.
  • Be very suspicious if the person on the other end of the phone immediately asks you for money or if they do not identify themselves by name (for example, calling themselves “your grandson” vs. “William”).
  • Make contact with your relative as soon as possible or reach out to another relative to straighten out facts.
  • If you feel a threat persists, call the police.
  • Reach out to law enforcement or Adult Protective Services (1-800-675-8437) if you have been a victim of this scam.

Charity Scams

In light of recent natural disasters, there have been a flood of donations to help the victims. Unfortunately, scammers have also been trying to take advantage of good people who want to assist in recovery efforts.

  • Do your research before donating to any organization that claims to assist victims of natural disasters by checking them out on reputable charity watchdog sites like Charity Navigator or GuideStar.
  • Do not donate to any organization that reaches out to you first via social media, email, a phone call or mail.
  • Be wary of fundraising via crowd funding websites because it is difficult to ensure that the money goes to the named charity or person in need.
  • Reach out to law enforcement or Adult Protective Services (1-800-675-8437) if you have been a victim of this scam.