Updated: Oct 6
Think scammers have any scruples? Think again! As of March 2, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) had logged about 369,000 consumer complaints related to COVID-19 and stimulus payments, 69 percent of them involving fraud or identity theft. Victims have reported losing nearly $358 million, with a median loss of $322.
Fraudsters are using the full suite of scam tools — phishing emails and texts, bogus social media posts, robocalls, impostor schemes and more — and closely following the headlines, adapting their messages and tactics as new medical and economic issues arise.
For example, with the government granting emergency authorization of the first COVID-19 vaccines, federal and state agencies are warning of a flood of vaccine scams, with phony websites and email campaigns promising easy and early access to coronavirus shots.
Here are some coronavirus scams scams to look out for.
In-demand products and bogus cures
Since the start of the pandemic, fraudsters have been bombarding consumers with pitches for phony remedies, and that’s unlikely to abate as the vaccines roll out and new tests hit the market.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) says consumers should be on the lookout for these signs of vaccine scams:
Requests that you to pay out of pocket to receive a shot or get on a vaccine waiting list
Ads for vaccines in websites, social media posts, emails or phone calls
Marketers offering to sell or ship doses of COVID-19 vaccines
Scammers are selling products to treat or prevent COVID-19 without proof that they work. The FTC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have sent dozens of warnings to companies selling unapproved products they claim can cure or prevent COVID-19. Teas, essential oils, cannabinol, colloidol silver and intravenous vitamin-C therapies are among supposed antiviral treatments hawked in clinics and on websites, social media and television shows as defenses against the pandemic.
The FBI says con artists are advertising fake COVID-19 antibody tests in hopes of harvesting personal information they can use in identity theft or health insurance scams.
Other scammers claim to be selling or offering in-demand supplies such as masks, test kits and household cleaners, often in robocalls, texts or social media ads. Scammers are using illegal robocalls to pitch everything from low-priced health insurance to work-at-home schemes. The FTC has issued warnings to companies suspected of abetting coronavirus robocalls, and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) set up a dedicated website with information on COVID-19 phone scams.
Beware the Phishing Scams
Since January, tens of thousands of new website domains have been registered with terms related to COVID-19 and the response to it, such as “quarantine,” “vaccine” and “CDC.” The Justice Department has shut down hundreds of these suspect sites, which promise vaccines and other aid, often in the guise of government agencies or humanitarian organizations.
If you contact one of those malicious domains, you could start getting phishing emails from fraudsters in an attempt either to plant malware on your computer or to get your personal information. Google reported in April 2020 that its Gmail platform was blocking 18 million such messages a day.
The FTC and the Justice Department issued an alert about phishing texts and phone calls that are supposedly from contact tracers, warning you that you’ve been exposed to someone with COVID-19. The scam texts include a link that, if clicked, downloads malware to your device. (Messages from actual contact tracers working for public health agencies will not include a link, or ask you for money or personal data.) Legitimate tracers need health information, not the money or personal financial information that scammers ask for. Learn how to tell the difference between a real contact tracer and a scammer.
These communications often appear to be from real businesses or government agencies, and clicking on links or downloading attached files could import a program that uses your internet connection to spread more malware, or digs into your personal files looking for passwords and other information for purposes of identity theft.
Be careful when you browse for information about coronavirus. Developing and testing vaccines for viruses takes a long time, and you’ll hear about them first from a legitimate source, such as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the World Health Organization (WHO). Make sure you are going to the genuine CDC and WHO websites. Scammers are impersonating them, too. Use sites like coronavirus.gov and usa.gov/coronavirus to get the latest information. And don’t click on links from sources you don’t know.
And speaking of government entities and money, don’t respond to texts, emails or calls about checks from the government. Here’s more about what you need to know.
Finally, do your homework when it comes to donations. Never donate in cash, by gift card, or by wiring money.
It’s crazy out there! Keep your loved ones safe!
Sources: FTC, AARP