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Facebook and WhatsApp offers of free covid-19 help are scams

Corona-Virus Money Scams Offering Help 5081311_1280If you see a message on WhatsApp or Facebook offering you free help during the pandemic, watch out. People are reporting seeing messages that seem to be from Pepsi, Walmart, Whole Foods, Target, and other well-known companies.

These messages offer money to people who need it – through grants, coupons for food support, or other giveaways. But they’re all fake, and not from those companies, said Diana Shiller, investigator for the Federal Trade Commission’s Division of Marketing Practices.

You might receive this message, in English or Spanish, from a friend or contact. The message tells you to click a link to get your money. If you click, you might find a survey to take. Or it might ask you to enter your name, address, phone number, or other information. And it might ask you to forward the message to several friends to be eligible to collect.

But what these message are really doing is running a phishing scam to collect your information – and your friends’ info – and possibly putting malware on your phone, tablet, or computer if you click the link.

There’s no money or help to receive. It’s a scam. It could have been a real, and hopeful, friend who forwarded the message to you – but it could have been a scammer who hacked your friend’s account.

If you get one of these messages, Shiller suggests the following:

  • Don’t click on any links. That could download malware, expose you to even more scams, or add your phone number to lists sold to other scammers.
  • Delete the messages – and don’t share them.
  • Call the friend who shared the message. Did he or she forward it to you? If so, let the person know his or her account might have been hacked. And, share this blog post with the person.

If you already clicked or shared the message, run a security scan on your device to look for malware. And then share this blog post with the friends you forwarded the message to – and ask them to do the same.

Next, file a complaint with the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.

Copyright 2020, Rita R. Robison, Consumer and Personal Finance Journalist

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