COVID-19 Scams

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the lives of people globally. As each of us have adapted to new lifestyles, there has been a surge of financial and identify theft scams that have arisen thanks to scammers taking advantage of wide-spread confusion, fear and panic COVID-19 has generated amongst the public.

Traditional scams have been tweaked by fraudsters to incorporate COVID-19-related issues. And as these scammers create more complex, savvy methods for tricking people, government agencies like the FBI and Federal Trade Commission (FTC), have developed a list of scams to be mindful of, and also, tips to avoid becoming a victim.

Scams to Look Out For:

  1. Fake Websites: Scammers have created websites selling bogus medical supplies. These range from COVID-19 testing kits, to cleaning supplies. The aim of this tactic is to get people to provide their personal financial information which is then used to by these scammers to steal funds and identities.

  2. Fake Emails from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) or the World Health Organization (WHO): To capitalize on the credibility of both the CDC and WHO, scammers generate false email accounts that claim to be from these organizations, promising salient information, products or services on COVID-19. Know that these email accounts often have slight alterations to the original organization’s accounts. Ex., fraudsters may use cdc.co or cdc.org instead of cdc.gov.

  3. Phishing Emails: These types of emails ask people to verify personal financial account information in order to receive the economic stimulus check from the Federal government.  While Congress did pass a stimulus plan, they will not ask for personal financial information from anyone in an unsolicited email.  Additional phishing scams to be aware of include,

    1. Charitable contributions

    2. General financial relief

    3. Airline carrier refund

    4. Fake cures and vaccines

    5. Fake testing kits

  4. Counterfeit Treatments or Cures: Any emails people receive for cures, vaccines or medical supplies concerning COVID-19 should be disregarded. Reputable health organizations will not send unsolicited emails to individuals touting vaccines, medical treatments and or remedies to address COVID-19. Also, these health agencies will never send unsolicited emails asking for personal medical information or records. 

  5. Fake Texts: Scammers send texts to get you to share valuable personal information like Social Security numbers, account numbers, and or account usernames and passwords. If someone receives a text from an unknown number prompting them for personal information in exchange for help with handling COVID-19, do not click on any links in the text or call any phone numbers the text offers.

  6. Robocalls: Phone calls from unknown numbers sharing information on COVID-19 and or any work-from-home schemes. Simply hang up and block the number. Do not provide any personal information. Click here for more information on robocalls from the FTC.

  7. Grandparent Scam: Scammers call vulnerable, elderly adults pretending to be helpless grandchildren in need of financial assistance. With COVID-19, fraudsters updated the scam to include virus-related concerns, asking grandparents to provide them money immediately for a hospital bill or other emergency treatment payments. People can avoid being victims of these scams by asking the caller to identify themselves with personal information only family members would know and not sending money via wire transfer, gift card or cash.

  8. Social Security Administration (SSA) Scam: Fraudsters are angling to get people’s money by pretending to be from the SSA. These scammers ask for one’s social security number for a variety of reasons Avoid becoming a victim of this scam by,

    1. Not trusting caller ID—scammers can often generate the real SSA number on a phone call.

    2. Not giving your social security number or other personal information to an unsolicited caller. The SSA will never threaten to take away a person’s benefits, or ask for money.

      1. If you have provided this information over-the-phone, please visit IdentityTheft.gov/SSA to report the incident. 

  9. Stimulus Check Scam: Briefly overviewed earlier, these scams are becoming more prominent now that people are eagerly awaiting these checks. Scammers will create fake checks in order to steal people’s money and trick them into providing personal information.

    1. When checks arrive or direct deposits are applied, the IRS will never ask someone to send overpayment money back to them in the form of cash or a gift card.

    2. The IRS will not call, text or email anyone with a password to login and access their stimulus check or deposit. Current IRS information on the stimulus checks are available here.

  10. Medicare and Relief Payment Scams: Fraudulent offers for COVID-19 testing kits, medical supplies and safety prevention packages are now on the rise with scammers. They will ask for Social Security numbers, Medicare account information and bank account verification. As always, do not provide any personal information from unsolicited callers. Legitimate health organizations will never ask for bank or Medicare account numbers, or Social Security numbers.

     

    The FTC is reporting an increase in fake government agency calls, where fraudsters claim to have “relief payments” for people. These scams come in the form of texts, emails and phone calls, under the guise of the Social Security Administration, Census, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, IRS and United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. Once again, do not provide any personal information to unprompted calls, texts or emails offering financial assistance. Government agencies do not ask for that information through unsolicited communications.

Should an individual believe they have been a victim of a scam or attempted fraud involving COVID-19, they can send a complaint to the Minnesota Commerce Department’s Consumer Services Center by emailing consumer.protection@state.mn.us or calling (651) 539-1600 or (800) 657-3602. 

Other agencies to report scams or suspected fraudulent activity,

For accurate information about the virus visit CDC.gov

For reliable information on medical information in connection with COVID-19 visit coronavirus.gov.

Learn more about coronavirus scams at ftc.gov/Coronavirus.

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