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Scams ramp up in Alabama during the pandemic

AARP officials say they have seen a significant increase in scammers seeking payment through gift cards.

ALABAMA, USA — The COVID-19 pandemic has lead to scams ramping up across the nation.

AARP says 98% more scams have been reported in Alabama since 2019, and many of those stem from the pandemic.

From vaccines to stimulus checks, scammers have exploited the pandemic over the last year, and they aren't letting up yet.

AARP Director of Fraud Prevent Programs Kathy Stokes said, "We're all in a heightened emotional state. They know that. They take advantage of headlines, and they convince us that there's a problem and we have to solve it by paying."

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While scammers will take your money any way they can get it, Stokes says they have seen a significant increase in scammers seeking payment through gift cards.

"You can see a gift card at just about any store you go to, so they're readily available,” said Stokes. “They're readily converted to cash or crypto currency. They're often used to keep money outside of the traditional banking system so that red flags don’t pop up when you see large parcels of money moving around."

Click here for more information about gift card scams.

Not every new scam is related to the pandemic. Scammers are posing as the IRS, utility companies, and local law enforcement officials.

"If they can get you to be really afraid that your social security account has been suspended or that the IRS is coming to arrest you because you haven't paid your back taxes, then you're pretty much going to believe and do anything they tell you to do," said Stokes.

RELATED: IRS Criminal Investigation Division to continue crackdown on COVID-19 related fraud

Some red flags that a scammer might be after your money is if they ask you to pay in gift cards or if there are typos in the e-mail.

"When we get something that strikes an emotion, fear or maybe excitement,” said Stokes. “Take a beat, you know, take a pause. Disengage and ask somebody that you love and trust what they think about the situation."

If you think you've been scammed, AARP has a helpline available to people of all ages. If you need assistance, you can call AARP’s toll-free Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360.

For more information about common fraud and scams, click here.

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