It’s a shame when dishonest people try to cash in to exploit a disaster. Watch out for these COVID-19 scams, and read our tips on how to protect yourself from being cheated.
Scammers “Phish” for victims by sending emails that seem to be from a legitimate source; they ask you to click a link, solicit personal or financial information (passwords, Social Security or bank account numbers), or ask you to download an attachment – all to gain personal information or load your computer with ‘ransomware.” Lately, these scammers pretend to be CDC alerts (“click here for info on Virus outbreaks near you”), health advice from the WHO or medical/university “experts” (“click here for updates on a vaccine”) or even from your employer’s HR department (“Click here for our updated Health Maintenance Policy”).
- Phony Vaccines, Treatments or Products
There is no vaccine against the coronavirus. Health officials are not selling in-home testing kits. There are no non-medical products, like teas or essential oils, to help prevent or treat the coronavirus. In March, the Federal Trade Commission ordered seven companies to stop making baseless claims that their products help prevent or treat the coronavirus. In other instances, you order masks, or cleaning supplies…which never arrive.
- Surprise Visits by Health Officials
Criminals clad in white lab coats or hazmat suits have been appearing on doorsteps claiming to be from the CDC, the state health department or other organizations (read more here). Don’t answer the door or let them in; call 911.
- Financial Help for Pay
The President has instituted several economic relief plans during the outbreak – waiving student loan interest, stopped collection of student loan debt, allowed borrowers to pause student loan payments for 60 days, mortgage relief and much more. In addition, a series of financial help measures are in the works once Congress passes and the President signs the disaster relief measure….but none of these opportunities can be sped up by anyone if you pay them a fee. Any calls or emails from anywhere offering to ‘expedite’ financial help for an upfront fee is a scam.
These scamsters have simply put a coronavirus spin on their tactics. Listen to three examples:
Tips to Protect Yourself
- It’s easy to steal logos, official-looking web pages and photos from the Internet. Look for odd phrases, misspellings, and URLs that are “off” – like cdc.org, instead of cdc.gov – that may reveal the website or email sender is not who it claims. Learn more about ‘Phishing” here.
- Never feel compelled to pickup the phone, even if caller ID says it’s from Social Security or Medicare; never feel compelled to open a link or attachment when urged to do so. If you unwittingly click a malicious link or reveal your personal data, change your passwords ASAP for banks and online payment systems. Review your credit card/bank statements carefully. Tell banks and at least one credit bureau to put a fraud alert on your account.
- Have updated computer software and anti-virus protection, which often prevent malware from automatically installing. But new versions pop up often – it’s like Whack-a-Mole.
- If you’re the victim of a scam, report it to the National Center for Disaster Fraud (email [email protected] or call 866-720-5721), the DOJ, the FTC (ftc.gov/complaint), the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (ic3.gov/default.aspx) or your state’s Attorney General (naag.org) – or all the above.
- If white lab coat-clad folks show up, don’t let them in. Call 911.