COVID-19 scams promise to alleviate the physical and financial risks associated with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic but in fact expose consumers to additional risk. The present research examines how one prominent and unequally distributed socioeconomic factor—resource availability during childhood—influences susceptibility to COVID-19 scams among US adults. One pilot and five preregistered studies (total $N=1595$) provide evidence that childhood adversity may often confer a protective advantage; when environmental threat is low, adults raised in scarcity are less susceptible to scams than those raised in abundance. However, heightened environmental threat—such as evidence of a worsening global pandemic—holds different consequences for those with different socioeconomic backgrounds: whereas adults raised in abundance become less susceptible to scams when the world seems more threatening, adults raised in scarcity become more susceptible to scams under these conditions.