As nations around the world work to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers are struggling to find reliable information about the disease, how to protect themselves, how they can get tested, and more.
Criminals are attempting to exploit the enhanced vulnerability of consumers around the world through a variety of scams related to the coronavirus. They are creating websites, contacting people via email and phone, and spreading misinformation on social media in the hopes of conning consumers into handing over their money and personal information.
Government agencies and other groups are stepping up to help keep the scammers at bay, but there are ways to help keep yourself safe. During these uncertain times, knowing about common scams is a good first step toward protecting yourself.
Here are some of the coronavirus-specific scams to look out for, and things you do to avoid them.
COMMON COVID-19 SCAMS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT
Criminals often prey upon people who are in vulnerable or difficult situations. Scammers have already launched several coronavirus-related schemes to con people into giving up their money and personal information.
Here are a few examples of scams linked to COVID-19:
Treatment and Testing Scams: Scammers are attempting to sell fake vaccines and cures, unproven treatments, and test kits for COVID-19. There is no cure for this virus and no vaccine. COVID-19 testing is available through local and state governments. Be suspicious of any offer to deliver coronavirus tests to your home, as well as any solicitations you receive via email, phone call, text message, or letter that claims to sell you cures or treatment for COVID-19.
Phony Medical Provider Scams: Fraudsters pretending to be doctors and hospitals are calling people, claiming to have treated a relative or loved one for coronavirus, and demanding payment for the treatment.
Person-In-Need Scams: Similar to the scam described above, criminals are posing as a relative or friend who claims to be sick, stranded in a different state or country, or in financial trouble and asking their victim to send money. A common scammer tactic – and red flag – is to beg you to keep it a secret and urge you to act fast, sending cash or gift cards by mail. In this case, hang up and call your loved one’s phone number to make sure the story checks out.
Fake Charity Scams: Scammers are posing as a real charity – or creating names that sound like a real charity – and requesting donations for people and areas affected by COVID-19. Be especially wary of any group that solicits these donations in the form of cash, wire transfer, gift card, or through the mail. These are red flags.
Supply Scams: Scammers are using fake online accounts and robocalls to sell supplies and products that are currently in high demand, such as medical supplies and household cleaning products – when in fact the items don’t exist. When someone attempts to purchase these products, the criminals pocket the money and never provide the promised items to the buyer.
Fraudulent Investment Schemes: The SEC issued an alert that scammers are creating online promotions claiming that the products and/or services of publicly traded companies can prevent, detect, or cure COVID-19, and the stock of these companies will drastically increase in value as a result. The promotions are commonly designed to look like “research reports” and predict a specific “target price.” The SEC warns that microcap stocks, or low-priced stocks issued by the smallest of companies, are especially vulnerable.
Stimulus Scams: In this scheme, scammers offer stimulus funds if the recipient provides their bank account number.
Phishing Scams: Scammers are posing as health authorities, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), and sending phishing emails in an attempt to trick their victims into giving money, providing personal or financial information, or downloading viruses or malware to their device.
HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF FROM COVID-19 FRAUD
Here are some tips to help you protect yourself from coronavirus scams:
Do your homework. Make sure to verify the identity of any company, charity, or person that contacts you regarding COVID-19. Be particularly cautious of any unsolicited emails requesting your personal information for medical purposes. Legitimate medical providers and health authorities will not contact you this way.
Ignore online offers of a vaccine, cure, or treatment for COVID-19. This includes offers for home test kits. Scammers are trying to get people to purchase products that aren’t proven to prevent or treat this disease. Remember: If this is a medical breakthrough, an unsolicited email, online ad, or sales pitch won’t be the first time you hear about it.
Check up on charities. Research all charities and crowdfunding sites asking for donations related to COVID-19. Remember, if the person requesting a donation is rushing you to give, or wants the donations in cash, gift cards, or money wire, it’s probably a scam. You can visit the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website to learn how to verify a charity.
Protect your devices. Check and ensure that the anti-virus and anti-malware software is up-to-date and operating on your computer and other devices.
Pay attention to the details. Watch out for emails and websites claiming to be from health authorities. Scammers often use addresses that are just barely different from the organizations they are impersonating. For example, a scammer trying to impersonate the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention domain cdc.gov may use cdc.com or cdc.org. Pay close attention to these details and use the actual websites for the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for the most up-to-date information about the coronavirus.
Remain vigilant with your investments. Be wary of so-called investment opportunities related to coronavirus, particularly any opportunities based on claims that a small company’s services or products can stop COVID-19. For more information on avoiding investment fraud, visit the SEC website.
Do not “sign up” or provide your personal information to anyone for your stimulus check. If you filed taxes for 2018 and/or 2019, the federal government should have the information necessary to send your money. If you have not filed taxes recently, you may need to submit a tax return to get your check. You can learn more about that by visiting the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) website. Anyone calling or sending email to ask for your Social Security or financial information is likely a scammer.
HOW TO REPORT COVID-19 FRAUD
If you believe you’re a victim of a COVID-19 scam or attempted fraud, or want to report suspicious activity, you can:
- Contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721 or via email at email@example.com
- Report it to the FBI at https://tips.fbi.gov
- Submit complaints about cyber scams via the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at https://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau | Beware of Scams Related to the Coronavirus
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) | COVID-19 Consumer Warnings and Safety Tips
Federal Trade Commission (FTC) | Coronavirus Scams: What the FTC is Doing
United States Department of Justice | Combatting Coronavirus Fraud
United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) | Look Out for Coronavirus-Related Investment Scams – Investor Alert