It’s hard to believe anyone would take advantage of a tragedy so horrific as a global pandemic that’s infected millions and killed thousands, yet such people exist.
Ever since the coronavirus scare has taken over the world, scammers have started coming up with ways to capitalize on that fear.
Learn how to protect yourself from this latest form of scam: coronavirus scams.
What Are Coronavirus Scams
Coronavirus scams, simply put, are attempts to use the coronavirus crisis as an opportunity to steal your personal information and your money.
Common Types of Coronavirus Scams
Coronavirus scams come in many forms, all in some way attempting to profit from the fear, uncertainty and pain of the coronavirus crisis.
As you’ll see in the examples below, scammers may use testing, vaccines, contact tracing and economic stimulus payments, among other familiar touchstones of the current pandemic, to lure their targets into their traps.
Coronavirus Robocall and Text/Email Scams
Scammers may use robocalls or phishing emails or texts to try to sell you products to prevent or treat COVID-19 without any proof they actually work.
Robocalls are automated calls that, when you pick up the call, play a prerecorded message rather than there being a person there addressing you on the other end.
Phishing emails and text messages, meanwhile, resemble those sent by official sources but contain links or attachments that either take you to the scammers own website or install malware onto your system.
For example, you may receive a text like this:
“IRS COVID-News: Click xx.xxx to register (or update) your information with the IRS in order to ensure you receive your COVID-19 economic impact payment.”
Or you may receive a phone call or voicemail message that says this:
“Thanks to the latest COVID-19 Response Act, coronavirus testing is now available for you to access immediately. To have a free COVID testing kit delivered to your home via overnight mail, press one; to decline this offer, press two.”
In a similar form of coronavirus scam, the scammers may try to sell you a false vaccine or cure.
Coronavirus Contact Tracing Scams
In other coronavirus scams, the scammers may purport to be contact tracers informing you that you have come into contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.
To protect your safety and that of those around you, these scammers will assert, you must act fast.
They will, then, ask for personal information they can allegedly use to provide you with testing or a treatment or cure.
They may even ask you for the contact information of others who you came into contact with in order to find other potential victims to target.
Be aware that legitimate contact tracers will never ask you for personal information. Rather, they will ask to confirm information they already have on record.
They will also never ask you to provide (or confirm) bank account information, your Social Security number, credit card numbers or insurance information.
Coronavirus Charity Scams
Another common type of coronavirus scam is a scammer impersonating a charity (real or fictitious) collecting money to support victims of the coronavirus crisis or advance research into a vaccine or cure.
Red Flags to Look Out For
As unfortunate as it may be, to protect yourself from scammers during this time when you’re already struggling to protect your health, safety and finances, you must consider all communications you receive regarding the coronavirus crisis as potential red flags.
Therefore, whenever you receive a robocall, email or text message regarding the coronavirus crisis, first and foremost, take a deep breath and proceed with caution.
In addition, be aware that, if you are an older American, you are at particular risk of being a target of coronavirus scams.
Communications From Alleged Government Agencies
If the caller/sender purports to be from a government agency, keep in mind that the government will never call you on the phone to request money or personal information and they will never ask you to reply directly to an email or text to provide personal information or access money.
Rather, the government will send you an official request in the postal mail and/or provide you a secure government website (with a URL ending in .gov) to complete the requested action.
Communications From Alleged Charities
Coronavirus charity scams will often try to pressure you to make a donation then and there, in the moment of contact. Do not let yourself be pressured into donating any money on the spot to anyone you don’t know.
If you really want to donate to a coronavirus charity, research the supposed charity on your own and, if you find it legitimate and worthwhile to you, send them a donation directly.
Tips on How to Protect Your Information
Be wary of all robocalls, texts and emails you receive from unknown sources about the coronavirus crisis. If you get any robocalls, hang up immediately.
If you receive any texts or emails about the coronavirus, do not click on any link or open any attachment it provides from an unfamiliar source, and never reply directly to one.
Instead, go to the internet and search for the alleged source’s official website and contact information independently.
Then contact that entity yourself and ask if they indeed sent you that email or text. If they did not, proceed to the next section to learn how to report the attempted scam you may have just uncovered.
In addition, ignore all home test kit and vaccination offers. If you’re interested in pursuing home test kits or learning the status of vaccinations (which, as of this Sep 1, 2020 writing do not yet exist,) do your own research on it.
Summary and Specific Resources
Coronavirus scams are as insidious these days as the coronavirus itself.
If you believe you may have unwittingly fallen prey to a coronavirus scammer or are concerns someone may have attempted to perpetrate a coronavirus scam against you, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) created the FCC Consumer Complaints Center that you can utilize to file and complains share your experiences and find other agencies that can help you.
You can also find the latest updates on current coronavirus scams at the website of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) here: ftc.gov/coronavirus/scams.
To lean more about reporting coronavirus charity scams, visit ftc.gov/charity.