As in other times of crisis, the scammers are out.
Law enforcement organizations are warning consumers that scammers are out in full force, preying upon the fears of U.S. consumers.
COVID Scammers Are Using Every Trick They Can
Scammers are looking to take advantage of the coronavirus pandemic by offering a host of “products” to consumers including
- Bogus coronavirus test kits
- Cleaning products and services
- Fake medical kits and vaccines
- Air purifiers purported to cleanse the virus from the air
North Carolina’s attorney general found it necessary to urge consumers of the need to understand the tactics scammers are using because the problem is so great.
Some people were even getting robocalls at home, being told they were being contacted by their local health department (when they were not) that they had come into contact with someone who had the virus. The goal of such calls is to instill fear and to get consumers to purchase products or to give sensitive information.
Scammers may use a number of tactics to get you to believe that what they are selling is something you need and go to any lengths to make it seems credible and real.
In the past week alone, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have sought to warn consumers and raise awareness by releasing several examples of spam calls that have circulated since the virus began spreading in the U.S.
- Don’t click on links from sources you don’t know. The Federal Trade Commission’s site has information on how to recognize and avoid phishing scams.
- Ignore online offers or ads for vaccinations against the virus
- Watch out for emails claiming to be from the CDC or other experts saying they have information about the virus. Instead, visit these websites directly for the most up-to-date information about the coronavirus.
One spam call is of a voice offering to send a free testing kit delivered overnight to your home, while another is of a suspected scammer advertising a cleaning service that supposedly eliminates the virus from the air in homes. These are both outright scams for your money.
The Truth About Coronavirus
First, there are NO free home test kits available to consumers. As for eliminating a virus from the air? The virus is spread via droplets when a person coughs or sneezes or when someone who is infected with the virus has close contact with someone else (person to person contact).
According to the CDC, “it may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.”
Either way, there simply are no miracle cures out there.
Other Ways Scammers are Trying to Steal Your Money or Private Information
Scams range from phone calls, robocalls, and text messages – including one from scammers sending phony text messages claiming to be from a government agency – to imposters posing as health care professionals.
Not surprisingly, people are beginning to get calls asking for personal information in order to receive a check from the government that is part of the stimulus package. While stimulus checks will be issued in the coming weeks, none have been issued yet. There is absolutely no action is required on your part. For up to date information, check the IRS website for information as it becomes available.
Some are even reporting door to door salespeople trying to peddle cleaning supplies. So far, the FTC has issued stern letters to at least seven sellers of products claiming to treat or prevent Covid-19, including N-ergetics, GuruNanda LLC, and Herbal Amy LLC.
New York State attorney general sent conspiracy theorist Alex Jones a cease-and-desist order after he said his supplements and toothpaste could be a coronavirus “stopgate.” The truth is that there simply are no products, no vaccines, and no drugs that can specifically treat or cure the coronavirus.
Other Common Scams:
Scammers offering at-home test kits
Miracle nasal sprays
Essential oils that claim to prevent or cure the coronavirus
How to Protect Yourself From Scammers
First, slow down. Be wary, protect yourself, and don’t let anyone rush you into making a decision about anything on the spot. Take time to investigate and figure out if you are being scammed. Misinformation and fear are not your allies.
The FBI and FCC in warnings to consumers have offered the following urgent tips for consumers:
- Be wary of any business, charity, or individual requesting payments in cash, by wire transfer, gift card, or through the mail.
- Never share your personal or financial information over email, text message, or over the phone.
- Know that government agencies will never call you to ask for money.
The Justice Department has separately urged Americans to report suspected fraud schemes related to COVID-19 by calling the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) hotline at 1-866-720-5721 or by emailing the NCDF at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Austin, P.L. (2020). COVID-19 scams are everywhere right now. Here’s how to protect yourself. https://time.com/5806518/covid-19-scams/
Consumer Protection. (2020). Is this a scam? https://www.consumerprotection.govt.nz/general-help/scamwatch/identify-a-scam/is-this-a-scam/
D’Anastasio. C. (2020). A Twitch streamer is exposing coronavirus scams live. https://www.wired.com/story/kitboga-twitch-streams-coronavirus-scams/
Federal Trade Commission. (2020). FTC & FDA: Warnings sent to sellers of scam coronavirus treatments. https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2020/03/ftc-fda-warnings-sent-sellers-scam-coronavirus-treatments
Federal Trade Commission. (2020). How to donate wisely and avoid charity scams. https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/how-donate-wisely-and-avoid-charity-scams
IRS.gov. (2020). Coronavirus tax relief. https://www.irs.gov/coronavirus
Luhby, T. (2020). Beware stimulus check scams. https://www.cnn.com/2020/03/28/politics/stimulus-check-scams/index.html
Mallin, A. (2020). Law enforcement warns Americans of increasing coronavirus scams. https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/law-enforcement-warns-americans-increasing-coronavirus-scams/story?id=69760340
Ries, J. (2020). Please don’t believe these coronavirus scams and advice. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/coronavirus-scam-advice_l_5e6bf9e1c5b6bd8156f74072
Stevens, AlD. (2020). How essential oil sellers are trying to profit off COVID-19 fears. https://www.salon.com/2020/03/17/essential-oils-mlm-coronavirus-covid-19/