Avoiding Coronavirus Scams
Scammers are always on the hunt for new ways to steal money and valuable personal data, and the Coronavirus outbreak has provided them with more ways to do this. Outlined below you will find the most common scams being reported and prosecuted related to the virus that you need to be on the lookout for. Scams tend to fall into three categories:
- Selling fake or unavailable items
- Seeking donations fraudulently
- Scamming for personal information
Selling Fake or Unavailable Items
While we are all hoping for a treatment or cure, currently one is not available. Despite this, scammers are selling things ranging from teas to essential oils with the claims that they will cure or prevent Covid-19. This is not true. Last month the FTC and FDA issued warning letters to seven companies requiring them to change the manner in which they were promoting their products, but others still persist.
Fake test kits have also been offered for sale. There is no approved at-home test kit. Period. If you are concerned that you may have the virus, contact your physician to find an appropriate location for testing, but do not under any circumstances order a do-it-yourself kit.
Fake masks have been offered for sale as well. Beyond selling counterfeit and useless materials, some scammers are setting up virtual shops, selling goods and never delivering anything. When shopping online, be sure to continue to use common sense, check reviews and only buy from vendors with a solid reputation and positive history. Be sure to use a credit card for any transactions in order to have the greatest level of purchase security behind you when you are buying.
In addition to these tangible goods, Coronavirus securities fraud is also on the rise. Email offers or calls from people offering you the opportunity to invest in companies with a cure or vaccine shouldn’t be trusted. Neither of these is currently available, and when it is, your inbox is not how you will get the news. If you do receive an email like this, you can report it online to FBI through their Internet Crime Complaint Center at https://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx.
Seeking Donations Fraudulently
Scammers are also playing on people’s better nature. Many of us are looking for ways to help and contribute to those in need, and scammers are more than willing to take our money. Representing non-existent charities, they solicit contributions. Some may also use the names of real charities, or create names that sound like familiar organizations.
Many real charitable organizations do exist and are working to help community members in need. If you are in a position to help, the safest bet is for you to seek out the organization yourself rather than to respond to an email or phone solicitation. If you are contacted by an organization that interests you, use one of these online tools to verify that they are legitimate before making any donations.
Scamming for Personal Information
We all know to be cautious when people we don’t know ask us for personally identifiable information, and that doesn’t change with the Coronavirus. Tactics associated with phishing campaigns have included:
- Free testing offers, requesting personal medical information (Medicare or health insurance) that can then be used to submit fraudulent claims
- Scammers posing as members of the World Health Organization (WHO) or Centers for Disease Control (CDC) with a link in the email that downloads malware to the users computer
- Offers to help secure stimulus funds more quickly
- Fake unemployment application websites
As many people are applying for unemployment for the first time, the possibility of being led astray is real and disturbing. In Pennsylvania the only place to file for unemployment benefits online is at the Department of Labor and Industry website, www.uc.pa.gov. Anything else is a misdirect and should be avoided.
If you are contacted by anyone claiming to be able to assist in getting you stimulus funds, it is a scam. No one has early access, and there is nothing anyone else can do for you to receive this money. If you filed taxes in 2018 or 2019, the federal government has everything they need to be able to send you your stimulus check.
The timing of funds distribution is still inexact. If you have questions, get answers and communicate directly with the IRS at www.irs.gov/coronavirus.
As always, the advice to remain safe remains the same. Do not provide personal information like social security numbers or bank account information to persons you don’t know. Don’t open or click on links in email from individuals you do not know. Common sense and vigilance, along with handwashing, are what we need to make it through this difficult time.
Stay on top of new scams by visiting any of the following sites:
- FTC: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/scam-alerts
- Department of Justice Coronavirus Fraud News: https://www.justice.gov/coronavirus#4