How to Avoid COVID Cons
COVID-19: A Fraudster’s Paradise
As the COVID-19 public health crisis continues to evolve, fraudsters do too. Difficult times create an opportunity for scammers to frequently prey upon vulnerable individuals. Already, cybercriminals have devised numerous methods for defrauding people in connection with COVID-19. They are setting up websites, contacting people by phone and email, and posting disinformation on social media platforms as a ruse to take your money and personal information.
With shortages for essential items, medical products and more, the public can feel desperation for certain goods and treatments. This is where the fraud begins. Here are some examples:
Scammers are creating fake shops, websites, social media accounts, and email addresses claiming to sell medical supplies currently in high demand, such as surgical masks. When consumers attempt to purchase supplies through these channels, fraudsters pocket the money and never provide the promised supplies.
Scammers are offering to sell fake cures, vaccines, and advice on unproven treatments for COVID-19.
Scammers are also contacting people by phone and email, pretending to be doctors and hospitals that have treated a friend or relative for COVID-19, and demanding payment for that treatment.
Scammers might even send you a product, but it often isn’t what was promised. When people try to return the item, they often have trouble getting a response.
Scammers are offering online promotions on various platforms, including social media, claiming that the products or services of publicly traded companies can prevent, detect, or cure COVID-19, and that the stock of these companies will dramatically increase in value as a result. These promotions are often styled as “research reports,” make predictions of a specific “target price,” and relate to microcap stocks, or low-priced stocks issued by the smallest of companies with limited publicly available information.
Price Gouging Scams
Individuals and businesses may sell essential goods, like hand sanitizer, for significantly higher prices than in a non-emergency setting. In many states, price gouging is an illegal practice.
Unemployment Benefit Scams
Your personal information can be used to claim unemployment benefits. Scammers may try to send prepaid cards to your residence or try to get benefits deposited into your accounts. Then, they’ll contact you or attempt to gain access to these funds. They may claim to be government employees trying to recover funds that were mistakenly provided to you.
Errand Helper Scams
Scammers may offer to help complete daily activities and ask for payment up front. Once paid, they’ll run off with the money before providing any service. Older adults are more at risk of being targets for this type of scam. Check with a trusted family member or friend before transacting.
How To Protect Yourself
The U.S. Attorney’s Office urges everyone, especially those most at risk of serious illness, to avoid these and similar scams by taking the following steps:
Independently verify the identity of any company, charity, or individual that contacts you regarding COVID-19.
Check the websites and email addresses offering information, products, or services related to COVID-19.
Be aware that scammers often employ addresses that differ only slightly from those belonging to the entities they are impersonating. For example, they might use "cdc.com" or "cdc.org" instead of "cdc.gov."
Be wary of unsolicited emails offering information, supplies, or treatment for COVID-19 or requesting your personal information for medical purposes. Legitimate health authorities will not contact the general public this way.
Do not click on links or open email attachments from unknown or unverified sources. Doing so could download a virus onto your computer or device.
Make sure the anti-malware and antivirus software on your computer is operating and up to date.
Ignore offers for a COVID-19 vaccine, cure, or treatment. Remember, if there is a medical breakthrough, you won’t hear about it for the first time through an email, online ad, or unsolicited sales pitch.
Check online reviews of any company offering COVID-19 products or supplies. Avoid companies whose customers have complained about not receiving items.
Research any charities or crowdfunding sites soliciting donations in connection with COVID-19 before giving. Remember, an organization may not be legitimate even if it uses words like "CDC" or "government" in its name or has reputable looking seals or logos on its materials. For online resources on donating wisely, visit the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website.
Be wary of any business, charity, or individual requesting payments or donations in cash, by wire transfer, gift card, or through the mail. Don’t send money through any of these channels.
Be cautious of "investment opportunities" tied to COVID-19, especially those based on claims that a small company’s products or services can help stop the virus. If you decide to invest, carefully research the investment beforehand. For information on how to avoid investment fraud, visit the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) website.
For the most up-to-date information on COVID-19, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) websites.
If you believe you may have been the target of a coronavirus-related fraud scheme you can:
File a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov or contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) by calling the NCDF Hotline at 1-866-720-5721.