We shouldn’t be surprised to find plenty of Coronavirus scams spreading far and wide, almost as quickly as the virus infiltrated. Find out the latest so you can avoid being taken.
Con artists haven’t wasted any time pitching Coronavirus scams to make a quick buck. As millions have lost jobs, become ill or risk defaults on student loans or mortgages, they’re vulnerable to scammers.
By May 20, the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) was already aware of nearly 30,000 Coronavirus scams and has sent dozens of warning letters. This new crop of Coronavirus scams has siphoned more than $37 million from consumers. Both individuals and businesses are being targeted.
What we know about the virus changes weekly, and so do the Coronavirus scams. But count on the con artists to continually be inventive and ahead of you. Current schemes focus on medical products/services and the expected checks from the IRS and PPP funds from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).
The fraud and criminal behaviors popping up
As usual, scammers are after access to your personal data and accounts as well as money. They are hawking:
- fake cures, treatments, medical equipment, testing kits
- non-existent or bogus charities
- investments in stock
To avoid being a victim, remember the advice often given by cybersecurity experts and government authorities: if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. No matter how the Coronavirus scam entices or how much you believe in a product or service, take time to do your fact finding and check sources.
For social media and financial accounts and when online, give yourself an added layer of protection by using two-step authentication whenever possible. For bank and brokerage accounts, you might also add contact info for person or advocate you already trust.
Who’s watching for Coronavirus scams?
Since several federal and state agencies are dealing with Coronavirus scams, you can find advice and updates on multiple websites. Here are a few:
- Find scam updates at the FTC site here. You can sign up for future alerts here and also report scams at ftc.gov or 877-382-4357.
- If you want to listen to a Coronavirus scams, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has samples here.
- To check medical treatments and Coronavirus updates, the best sources for information include the website for the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and coronavirus.gov or usa.gov/coronavirus.
- In regard to economic impact payments, use the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) site or the FTC site.
- Information on student loan fraud and updates on payments, can be found here.
- State and local health departments should have reliable information as well.
When it sounds too good to be true, it likely is…. a scam
In general, tactics used for Coronavirus scams are similar to previous ones that have become classic. Here are some of the reported scams, plus the FTC’s cautions for consumers targeted:
- Phishing – Emails supposedly from the SBA or CDC may even have official-looking logos. The real SBA and CDC don’t send unsolicited emails to ask you for personal information.
- Robo calls – Your employer or a government agency won’t contact you to send free home test kits, market a cure, offer work-at-home opportunities, or sell health insurance. Don’t take the bait and don’t provide personal info.
- Imposter texts – Getting text messages from a health department/facility that ask you to open an attached link? Don’t click. Government agencies are not sending a mandatory online test or requesting contact tracing data. Ignore directions to text “STOP” or “NO,” a ploy by scammers to confirm your phone number is active.
- Medical scams peddling cures, vaccinations and treatments – To date, nothing on the market has been proven to prevent the COVID-19 virus. Don’t buy.
- Fake testing – Because the FDA (Food & Drug Administration) has not approved most of the advertised test kits, there’s a good chance they aren’t accurate. Check with your doctor or state health agency instead.
- Ordered, but undelivered – Even when looking for hard-to-find items, face masks or medical items, you should verify and use legitimate retailers. And never pay by gift card, wire transfer or Bitcoin.
- Bogus charities – While new charitable causes may sound worthwhile and helpful, check here before making donations. Or check with this IRS site.
- Price gougers – Supply and demand is one thing, but charging excessive prices when products are available is not right. Check with several retailers before overpaying for products in high demand now, like bleach, toilet paper or disinfectant sprays.
- Investment scams – A company with a cure sounds amazing and wants you to invest? You won’t hear about a medical breakthrough via an ad or sales pitch. Check with the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission first.
- Look-alike sites – Dozens of new websites, Facebook pages and apps are popping up, hoping to hook many consumers with malware and more. Protect yourself online, and monitor sites your kids visit too, even those promoted as educational. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) has websites and online services get parental consent.