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Look Out for These 6 COVID-19 Scams

This article was published on Thomas.

Scammers are exploiting vulnerability and fear during the COVID-19 crisis to steal money and personal information.

These scams can come in any format, including:

  • Emails (some of which will get past your spam filters)

  • Text messages

  • Phone calls

  • Social media posts or direct messages (DMs)

Here are six emerging scams to look out for.

1. Misinformation and Fake Offers

One of the most common scams involves sharing false information to cause fear or concern or offering fake opportunities to recipients. For example: 

  • Texts with bogus claims of mandatory national quarantine, or “mandatory online COVID-19 tests,” with a malicious link.  

  • Robocalls offering employment through fake work-from-home schemes.

  • Malicious websites and apps that appear to share information about COVID-19, gaining access to a victim’s devices and locking them until payment is received.

2. Fake Cures and Fraudulent Medical Equipment

Similar to misinformation and fake offers, scammers also commonly entice their victims with fake COVID-19 cures or other medical solutions, including: 

  • Fake cures: vaccinations, immunity pills, miracle cures, and natural cures.

  • Robocalls with fraudulent offers to sell respiratory masks and other PPE with no intent of delivery.

  • Sales of counterfeit or fake home test kits. There are currently no FDA-authorized home test kits for COVID-19.

  • Sales of fake health insurance and other insurance scams.

  • Offers of free equipment in exchange for personal information or health insurance information.

3. Scams Related to Stimulus Funds

Scams that claim to unlock access to stimulus funds — emergency grant payments or checks from the government — if the recipient enters their banking details. Scammers have falsely claimed to be from the Treasury Department.

4. Fake Hospital Worker Calls

Scammers are pretending to be hospital workers, calling victims and claiming that a family member is in the hospital with coronavirus but cannot be seen until a deposit is paid.

5. Charity Fraud

Scammers are seeking donations for illegitimate or non-existent charitable organizations, usually through crowdfunding sites.

6. Phishing Emails from Scammers Pretending to Be Health Authorities and Other Trusted Organizations

The most common digital outreach from scammers often includes: 

  • Phishing emails from scam artists posing as health authorities like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.

  • Phishing emails from scammers offering fake free membership for well-known websites such as Netflix or Hulu.

  • Fake coupons from scammers impersonating brands such as Walmart, McDonald’s, and Starbucks.

Staying Safe

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) provides the following advice:

  • Do not answer calls or reply to texts from unknown numbers.

  • Never share personal, financial, health, or other sensitive information by email, text, or phone.

  • Be cautious when someone asks for information or payments to be made immediately.

  • Be aware that scammers can use caller ID spoofing to pretend they are from an agency you trust. 

  • Do not click on links in a text message. If someone you know sends a text and link that is out of character, they may have been hacked. 

  • Investigate charities before donating.

Where Should I Report a Scam?

The DOJ says victims of scams or attempted fraud should contact:

Fraud involving payment of Federal taxes should be reported to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.

The Federal Trade Commission is also encouraging victims to report COVID-19 scams via the FTC Complaint Assistant site.

Consider also reporting the scam to the organization the scammers are impersonating.

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