As we all face the coronavirus together, there are so many stories about how friends, neighbors, and perfect strangers have been reaching out to help others to weather this storm. Sadly, there are those who are trying to take advantage of the situation.
Criminal scammers exploit times like these to take advantage of confusion, fear, greed and our honest desire to help. Here are some tips from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to help you keep the scammers at bay:
- Don’t click on links from sources you don’t know. They could download viruses onto your computer or device.
- Watch for emails claiming to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or experts saying they have information about the virus. For the most up-to-date information about the Coronavirus, visit the websites for the CDC or World Health Organization (WHO) directly.
- Ignore online offers for vaccinations. There currently are no vaccines, pills, potions, lotions, lozenges or other prescription or over-the-counter products available to treat or cure Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) — online or in stores.
The FTC has also identified some of the common scams that have been reported.
- Undelivered goods: Online sellers claim they have in-demand products, like cleaning, household, and health and medical supplies. You place an order, but you never get your shipment. Anyone can set up shop online under almost any name — including scammers. The FTC recommends that you check out the seller by searching online for the person or company’s name, phone number and email address, plus words like “review,” “complaint” or “scam.” If everything checks out, pay by credit card and keep a record of your transaction.
- Fake emails, texts and phishing: Scammers use fake emails or texts to get you to share valuable personal information — like account numbers, Social Security numbers, or your login IDs and passwords. To do so, scammers often use familiar company names or pretend to be someone you know. Other scammers have used real information to infect computers with malware. The FTC recommends you protect your computer by keeping your software up to date and by using security software. Your cell phone should also be set to make security updates automatically, and you should use multi-factor authentication for your important accounts.
- Robocalls: Scammers are using illegal robocalls to pitch everything from scam Coronavirus treatments to work-at-home schemes. The best advice here is to just hang up. Don’t press any numbers. The recording might say that pressing a number will let you speak to a live operator or remove you from their call list, but it might lead to more robocalls, instead.
- Misinformation and rumors: Scammers, and sometimes well-meaning people, share information that hasn’t been verified. Before you pass on any messages, and certainly before you pay someone or share your personal information, do some fact checking by contacting trusted sources
You should also be aware of the following scammer tactics.
- Imposter Scams: Bad actors attempt to solicit donations, steal personal information, or distribute malware by impersonating government agencies (e.g., Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), international organizations (e.g., World Health Organization (WHO), or healthcare organizations.
- Product Scams: The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have issued public statements and warning letters to companies selling unapproved or misbranded products that make false health claims pertaining to COVID-19. Additionally, The U.S. Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) has received reports regarding fraudulent marketing of COVID-19-related supplies, such as certain facemasks.
- Investment Scams: The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has urged investors to be wary of COVID-19-related investment scams, such as promotions that falsely claim that the products or services of publicly traded companies can prevent, detect, or cure coronavirus. FinCEN has received reports regarding suspected COVID-19-related insider trading. This often involves a pump and dump scheme, where scammers attempt to con investors into driving up the price of a stock, so that they can then sell their own stock at a profit.
Most of us are doing all we can to get through these difficult times. We hope that you and your loved ones are following the instructions of your local health authorities in order to keep yourself and your community safe. And sadly, there are those who are trying to illegally profit from this crisis. We ask you to please be on the lookout for scams, and only rely on trusted sources such as the CDC, WHO and FTC, to keep you informed.