With millions of Americans impacted by the Coronavirus, the number of scams is increasing. There are scams around cures or treatments for COV-19, counterfeit medical supplies including surgical or N-95 masks, price gouging, and scams around government economic impact or stimulus payments. Find how to identify as well as protect yourself from fraud as well as Coronavirus scams.
Tens of millions of Americans are now receiving economic impact payments from the federal government, commonly known as “stimulus checks”. Millions of people are also filing for unemployment. Scammers are working overtime to illegally grab a chunk of those funds. Note the only extra money you may be eligible for due to the COV-19 Coronavirus is from the economic impact (stimulus payments) or unemployment if your job was impacted – there is no other financial assistance for individual American households. Anyone who says differently is running a scam.
E-mail, text and phone scams have risen dramatically since the onset of the virus. There are also counterfeit medical supplies and illegal claims on protection from the COVID-19 virus or testing. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is receiving thousands of fraud reports each week detailing cons that have cost Americans millions of dollars per week.
Many of the scams offer free coronavirus or antibody tests, vaccines or new cures or masks or medical supplies that guarantee protecting from COVID-19. Be wary of those and do not fall for them. Bogus offers to send free supplies simply for paying a shipping charge have been common.
Scammers may pose as workers for a charity and ask you to provide money for the less fortunate, and be sure you know how to prevent those financial scams. Con artists may claim to be from a government agency and request personal identification or banking information supposedly needed to ensure you receive your stimulus check.
Other cons offer bogus student loan repayment plans, debt consolidation programs and virus-related work from home opportunities. Many Coronavirus scams are targeted at the elderly. Tactics range from pleading for help to threats and high-pressure tactics demanding immediate payment to avoid negative consequences.
Protecting yourself from being conned requires vigilance, common sense and a healthy dose of skepticism. Keeping a few basic rules in mind should help you to avoid being conned.
Common COVID-19 and Coronavirus scams
There can be dozens of scams out there according to the Federal Trade Commission. They also tend to change and evolve and change by the day. If you ever get any type of offer or proposal with anything having to do with Coronavirus COVID-19, do the research to stop yourself from falling for a scam.
Never provide financial or personal information to someone claiming to be from your bank or the IRS about your economic impact payment. Your bank already has all the information it needs. The IRS will never call to request your personal and banking information. Stimulus funds (generally $1200 or $2400) are being delivered by direct deposit to persons who filed taxes in 2018 and 2019 and provided bank information as part of those returns. If you did not file a return or provide direct deposit information, go to the website IRS.gov and follow a link on the home page.
Social Security recipients will automatically receive economic impact payments. Don’t respond to any request asking for your Social Security number to receive a check.
Coronavirus scams about unemployment filing or stimulus. States are increasing the amount of unemployment that is paid out and the federal government IRS is paying out economic impact payments. There is no other financial help out there for the Coronavirus. If any person or company promises you, an individual, extra money than it is an almost guaranteed scam.
Treat unsolicited calls, texts and e-mails with caution. Don’t respond using links in texts and e-mails. While the data is hard to get at, the FTC estimates that Coronavirus spam and malware emails are the leading cause of fraud. There are offers claiming to provide COVID vaccines, sell N-95 masks and other scam emails.
Simply clicking on a link can result in malware being installed on your computer or phone. The malware may cause your device to lock-up until you pay a requested ransom, or the malware may be designed to send your keystrokes to a hacker who can then obtain your passwords and user IDs.
Don’t log into an alleged website using a link provided in an unsolicited text or e-mail having to do with the Coronavirus pandemic. Typical COVID-19 scams involving links may claim you forgot to complete a recent purchase or that utility services will be terminated unless immediate payment is made. To verify such claims and prevent the scam from happening, navigate to the company’s website on your own and log in following the usual procedure.
Never provide personal or financial information via e-mail or respond to requests asking for such information. This includes banking information, Paypal account details and the 3 digit security number on the back of credit cards.
Even if an e-mail appears to be from someone you know or a legitimate medical company (such as United Health Care, 3M or Johnson and Johnson), if the content of the e-mail seems suspicious, call the alleged sender before responding to the e-mail. Navigate directly to that companies website, as most businesses have dedicated Coronavirus webpages set up with legitimate information. Hackers are proficient at stealing an individual’s contact list and then sending e-mails that appear to be from that individual hoping the recipients will respond or click on a link.
E-mails that appear to be from the World Health Organization, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) or other government organizations should be viewed skeptically. Scammers can make such e-mails offering information and services appear legitimate and official. Don’t respond. Go to the organization’s website using your browser rather than clicking on an e-mail link.
Ignore offers for COVID-19 cures, treatment or Coronavirus vaccines. Numerous deceptive scams have been launched that target people’s fear of catching the virus with offers of products to prevent or treat it. At this time there is no vaccine or immunity pill to prevent contracting the coronavirus. There is not a specific FDA-approved cure or treatment.
In addition, there is no guaranteed way to protect yourself from the COVID-19 pandemic. No N-95 mask is fail safe. There is no cleaning supply, personal hygiene item, or product that is 100% fail safe.
Be wary of phone calls from unknown numbers. The usual rule is to simply ignore calls from numbers you do not recognize. However, since dealing with the pandemic may result in receiving legitimate calls such as those from health care providers or a hospital/doctor, you may want to answer and then hang-up if the caller is someone you do not recognize. Many scams are robocalls as well,
There are no treatments or cures to COVID-19. If you hear about any supplements, vitamins, ointments, or steps to take to cure yourself or limit the chance you will get the virus, it is not true! Only use real CDC data. There are not currently any Coronavirus vaccinations, and it will take 12 months or longer for pharmaceutical companies to create one and even longer for every American to get vaccinated.
Unfortunately, during times of health scares or pandemics, whether Zika, the bird flu, or COVID-19, many companies as well as shady doctors come out and push some type of treatment. Or they sell products that say you will become immune. They are never FDA approved. All of these fly by night operators are trying to sell fraudulent products, many of them which may harm you. Stay away! Just monitor official guidelines from the CDC or your health care professional.
Do your research on charities. Before you contribute money in response to a solicitation alleging to be for a charity, check out the organization online. Scammers love to take advantage of people’s desire to assist others in a time of crisis. Whether the Coronavirus pandemic, or some other natural disaster, make it simple and donate to a major, well known national non-profit charity.
Take the time to ensure the request is being made by a legitimate organization. Searching give.org will provide background on many legitimate charities and non-profit organizations. Another great resource to identify charitable fraud is charitynavigator.org, as this national non-profit has many resources on preventing charitable scams around the Coronavirus.
Buy Coronavirus supplies from retailers you trust. Typical scams include offers to sell masks (surgical or N-95), protective equipment and cleaning supplies. Limit online purchases of goods to retailers from whom you have purchased before or that may be well known. Only buy well known brands.
If you purchase via Amazon, check to see whether the goods are coming directly from Amazon or a third-party seller. As the fact is that Amazon is well known for allowing price-gouging as well as fake scam products to be sold on it site. Many amazon reviews (it is estimated as man as half) are also fake.
Where unknown individuals or businesses are involved, do an internet search using the name of the person or business with a keyword like “review” or “complaint.” Avoid purchasing anything by phone.
Beware of check scams asking for information. One current con involves people receiving by mail what appears to be a stimulus check for an odd amount from the IRS. Enclosed directions require the recipient to call a number to verify information needed, such as your bank account, to cash the check.
The check is not legitimate. You do not have to call anyone before cashing a legitimate government check. Similarly, beware of messages claiming that you need to pay back taxes to receive a check. There is no such requirement.
Do not react to scam threats or urgent pleas. Avoid responding to any offer that claims to be urgent or requires you to “act now.” Scammers often use scare tactics or promise to provide an immediate fix for alleged problems for which you did not request help.
A few final tips about COVID-19 scams. Don’t ever give an unsolicited caller remote access to your computer even if the person claims to have a legitimate reason or to be from a relevant business like Microsoft. You should initiate contact with a person to whom you are willing to give access. Disregard messages from anyone claiming he will work on your behalf to obtain your COVID-19 stimulus check quicker. If you need relief from upcoming mortgage payments, credit card bills or utility bills, be proactive and contact the creditor directly rather than responding to messages offering financial assistance. Or find a list of other common scams.
As noted, the type of scams is bound to evolve as the pandemic goes on. There will not be any one source or lost of them as by the time the Coronavirus scam becomes well known and “widely” identified, it is often too late. However one place to look for some information is https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/coronavirus-scams-what-ftc-doing.
Scams, price-gouging, and fraud
Sadly, whenever a disaster strikes the scammers emerge from many places. There are professional companies and people that focus so much energy on trying to steal from people. The Coronavirus has given these fraudsters a huge opportunity – do not fall for their scams.
Protecting yourself and your family from contracting the virus is everyone’s priority right now. Guarding yourself and loved ones from being scammed during this difficult time should also rank high on your list. Be cautious of what you buy, any information you provide, and watch your finances. Exercising a little extra caution and common sense in this challenging time of the COVID-19 pandemic will help to protect both your personal and financial health.