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FTC warns consumers about COVID-19 scams on Facebook and WhatsApp

The agency says money offers made on these platforms are likely phishing scams

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With Congress still deadlocked over providing additional aid during the COVID-19 pandemic, many consumers are struggling to stay financially afloat. Because of the desperation that has spawned from this crisis, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says it’s even more important to be aware of scammers who are looking to take advantage of the situation. 

In a recent blog post, FTC investigator Diana Shiller said that one of the latest schemes to look out for involves supposed money offers that are being made by companies on platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp. She says consumers are reporting seeing messages from many well-known companies that offer money to those who may be in need. 

“People have reported seeing messages that seem to be from Pepsi, Walmart, Target, and other big-name brands. These messages all 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 at all,” Shiller warned. 

Online phishing scams

Shiller says what scammers are actually doing with these offers is running a phishing scam that’s intended to collect personal information. Although the thought of receiving help from a benevolent company might be nice, the fact of the matter is that there is no actual assistance being offered. In fact, receiving the message through a friend isn’t even a guarantee that you’re not being played.

“There’s no money to get, and no help to be had. Just scammers. It could have been a real (and hopeful) friend who forwarded that message to you -- but it could have been a scammer who hacked your friend’s account,” Shiller said.

The FTC says that consumers who receive a suspicious offer should submit a complaint on the agency’s website. Aside from that, it’s important to not click or share any links that were included in the messages. If you have any doubts, the agency says to simply delete the messages and directly contact the person who messaged you in the first place to see if they actually sent you the information. Given the damage these scam offers could inflict, it’s better to be safe than sorry. 

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