How to Avoid Coronavirus Scams

In a letter to state attorney generals, U.S. Attorney General Barr said, "The pandemic is dangerous enough without wrongdoers seeking to profit from public panic and this sort of conduct cannot be tolerated."

 

Unfortunately, scammers and unscrupulous businesses are taking advantage of fears surrounding the coronavirus epidemic. These disreputable individuals may use COVID-19 as an opportunity to steal your identity and commit fraud; try to sell you protective gear at exorbitant prices; or sell you products that have no merit, such as home test kits and supposed cures and treatments.

 

According to Medicare, scammers “might tell you they'll send you a Coronavirus test, masks, or other items in exchange for your Medicare number or personal information. Be wary of unsolicited requests for your Medicare number or other personal information.”

 

Remember, Medicare will never call you to ask for or check your Medicare number. And, no federal or state agency will call you requesting your social security number or credit card information!

 

COVID-19 has affected the lives of millions of people around the world and is rapidly increasing in the United States. It’s impossible to predict its long-term impact. But it is possible to take steps to help protect yourself against coronavirus-related scams.

 

What Can I Do to Avoid Coronavirus Scams?

Here are some tips compiled from federal government law enforcement agencies to help you keep the scammers at bay:

 

  • Hang up on robocalls. Do not press any numbers. Scammers are using illegal robocalls to pitch everything from scam Coronavirus treatments to work-at-home schemes. 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.

 

  • Ignore online offers for vaccinations and home test kits. There currently are no vaccines, pills, potions, lotions, lozenges or other prescription or over-the-counter products available to treat or cure COVID-19 — online or in stores. At this time, there also are no FDA-authorized home test kits for the Coronavirus. Visit the FDA to learn more.

 

  • Fact-check information. Scammers, and sometimes well-meaning people, share information that hasn’t been verified. Before you pass on any messages, contact trusted sources. Visit What the U.S. Government is Doing for links to federal, state and local government agencies that have accurate and reliable information.

 

  • Know who you are buying from. Online sellers may claim to have in-demand products, like cleaning, household, and health and medical supplies when, in fact, they do not. Or, they may be selling some items at dramatically inflated prices.

 

  • Do your homework when it comes to donations, whether through charities or crowdfunding sites. Don’t let anyone rush you into making a donation. If someone wants donations in cash, by gift card, or by wiring money, don’t do it. They are probably seeking donations fraudulently for illegitimate or non-existent charitable organizations.

What Are COVID-19 Phishing Emails?

Information adapted from the online security company Norton

 

The overwhelming amount of news coverage surrounding the COVID-19 has created a new danger — phishing attacks looking to exploit public fears about the sometimes-deadly virus.

 

How does it work? Cybercriminals send emails claiming to be from legitimate organizations with information about the coronavirus. The email messages might ask you to open an attachment to see the latest statistics. If you click on the attachment or embedded link, you may download malicious software onto your computer, tablet or smartphone.

 

The malicious software — malware, for short — could allow cybercriminals to take control of your computer, log your keystrokes, or access your personal information and financial data, which could lead to identity theft.

 

How Do I Spot a Coronavirus Phishing Email? 

Coronavirus-themed phishing emails can take different forms, including these:

 

  • CDC alerts. Cybercriminals have sent phishing emails designed to look like they’re from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The email might falsely claim to link to a list of coronavirus cases in your area. “You are immediately advised to go through the cases above for safety hazard,” the text of one phishing email reads.

 

  • Health Advice Emails. Phishers have sent emails that offer purported medical advice to help protect you against the coronavirus. The emails might claim to be from medical experts near Wuhan, China, where the coronavirus outbreak began. “This little measure can save you,” one phishing email says. “Use the link below to download Safety Measures.”

 

How Do I Avoid Scammers and Fake Ads?

Scammers have posted ads that claim to offer treatment or cures for the coronavirus. The ads often try to create a sense of urgency — for instance, “Buy now, limited supply.” At least two bad things could happen if you respond to the ads.

 

One, you might click on an ad and download malware onto your device. Two, you might buy the product and receive something useless, or nothing at all. Meanwhile, you may have shared personal information such as your name, address, and credit card number.

Bottom line? It's smart to avoid any ads seeking to capitalize on the coronavirus!

 

Tips for Recognizing and Avoiding Phishing Emails

Here are some ways to recognize and avoid coronavirus-themed phishing emails. These email messages usually try to lure you into clicking on a link or providing personal information that can be used to commit fraud or identity theft. Here are some tips to avoid getting tricked:

  • Beware of online requests for personal information. A coronavirus-themed email that seeks personal information like your Social Security number or login information is a phishing scam. Legitimate government agencies won’t ask for that information. Never respond to the email with your personal data.

  • Check the email address or link. You can inspect a link by hovering your mouse button over the URL to see where it leads. Sometimes, it’s obvious the web address is not legitimate. But keep in mind phishers can create links that closely resemble legitimate addresses. Delete the email.

  • Watch for spelling and grammatical mistakes. If an email includes spelling, punctuation, and grammar errors, it’s likely a sign you’ve received a phishing email. Delete it.

  • Look for generic greetings. Phishing emails are unlikely to use your name. Greetings like “Dear sir or madam” signal an email is not legitimate.

  • Avoid emails that insist you act now. Phishing emails often try to create a sense of urgency or demand immediate action. The goal is to get you to click on a link and provide personal information — right now. Instead, delete the message.

 

Where Can I Find Legitimate Information About the COVID-19?

It’s smart to go directly to reliable sources for information about the coronavirus, including  federal, state and local government health care agencies and well-known academic medical centers. Here are some of the best places to find answers to your questions about the coronavirus:

 

Where Can I Report a COVID-19 Scam?

Criminals will likely continue to use new methods to exploit COVID-19 worldwide. If you think you are a victim of a scam or attempted fraud involving COVID-19, you can report it without leaving your home though a number of platforms. Contact the:

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