As the coronavirus spreads, scammers are coming out of the woodwork trying to take advantage of people who are looking for investment opportunities in the down market and those looking for financial assistance, said Josh Jones, principal at the nationwide law firm of Bressler, Amery & Ross in Florham Park, N.J.

Jones said he is sure regulators are receiving more notices of scams, although it is too early to see if statistics support that view.

“Whenever there is market volatility and whenever there is something new going on, scammers ramp up their activity,” he noted.

At the same time, the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA), the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (Finra) have issued warnings about scams.

Some of those trying to take advantage of the crisis are offering investments in companies that are purportedly researching and developing a vaccine for the coronavirus. While the government and private companies are working on a vaccine, any offers by telephone or internet to make investments in such companies should be examined carefully, Jones said.

Some fraudsters also are offering vaccines, he said. They offer the unsuspecting person access to the vaccine in return for an upfront payment of cash, credit card or gift cards. Similar fraudulent offers are being made by companies that claim to be able to clean a home to eradicate the coronavirus. Upfront payments always are part of the scheme, Jones said.

Other types of scams include fraudsters calling with fake offers of public assistance when they are actually trying to get personal information or a payment to purportedly secure the benefit. The Federal Trade Commission has issued a warning about such scams, reiterating that there are no benefits being paid out as yet.

“Both seniors and financial advisors should be on the lookout for financial exploitation, whether caused by scammers or someone close to a vulnerable client,” Jones said. “Statistics are clear that most financial exploitation of vulnerable adults is done by family members or others with a close, personal relationship. With the economic troubles and market developments caused by the virus, exploiters may view this as the time to act.

“Everyone should know the government will never ask for a Social Security number or a prepayment to acquire benefits,” he said. “The old adage -- ‘If it sounds too good to be true, it is,’ – is correct.”

Advisors should help their clients look out for any potential scams and those investors who work with an advisor should consult him or her before making any investment, Jones said.

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