Whenever there are vulnerable people, there are criminals lurking to take advantage. Sometimes, its preying on the elderly. Other times, its exploiting the security of private information. Today, criminals are finding ways to profit off the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. Here, we provide information on some of the scams and frauds occurring now.
Charity Scams & Price Gouging
The easiest fraud is asking for donations to help fight the coronavirus. This includes donations for research, testing, and treatments. You should only donate directly to a charity which you know and trust. Beware of those only seeking cash or gift card donations.
Additionally, many people are without employment during the coronavirus pandemic. Many charities are offering free meals and support to those feeling this hardship. Again, be sure it’s a legitimate charity you’re donating to.
Masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, medications, and in-demand paper products are also being sold for astronomical prices. Price gouging occurs when a seller increases the prices of goods to a level much higher than what is reasonable or fair. It is both a state and federal crime.
Threats, Fake Testing, & Medical Products
Most serious are emails threatening infection with the coronavirus. Others are emails stating the recipient has the virus in order to exploit them. Public officials are even getting threats when they advocate for certain protective measures.
Another concerning scam has been fraudulent testing sites. These sites may charge people exorbitant fees for fake tests. Other sites may also promise expedited results. The fraudsters may also be offering the tests to get access to personal information.
Scammers are also selling fake medical supplies online. In particular, there some are offering counterfeit coronavirus testing kits for sale. Others are also selling medications and vaccines, promising to cure or prevent contracting coronavirus.
Medical Information & Billing Scams
Some are getting emails, purporting to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). The emails may contain attachments or links which may steal personal information. In other cases, the emails may offer false information about the coronavirus.
There are also people getting calls from those posing as health insurers to get get private information. Some are also targeting those who have already been exposed to coronavirus. They demand payment for procedures related to testing and treatment.
Stimulus Check Scams
One scheme involves the promised stimulus checks from the federal government. The stimulus checks are part of a $2 trillion stimulus package to provide a jolt to the economy. In this scam, people may receive calls or emails asking for bank account details. Or they may be offered an increase in their stimulus check or an expedited processing of the check.
Federal authorities have warned against such scams. Note that the IRS will not contact anyone to request personal or banking information. The organization does not make calls or send emails for such information. Instead, the IRS will be sending stimulus checks based on information provided on 2018 tax returns.
How to Protect Yourself
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has provided the following guidance. These steps may help you from falling victim to a coronavirus scam.
- Ignore online offers for vaccinations and home test kits.
- Hang up on robocalls.
- Don’t respond to texts and emails about checks from the government.
- Don’t click on links from sources you don’t know.
- Know who you’re buying from.
- Fact-check information. For the most up-to-date information about the coronavirus, visit the CDC’s or WHO’s websites.
- Do your homework when it comes to donations.
- Mark Townsend, “Fraudsters exploiting COVID-19 fears have scammed £1.6m,” The Guardian (April 4, 2020). Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/04/fraudsters-exploiting-covid-19-fears-have-scammed-16m (last accessed April 6, 2020).
- Justin Story, “Police urge public to beware of COVID-19 scams,” Bowling Green Daily News (Kentucky) (April 6, 2020). Available at: https://www.bgdailynews.com/news/police-urge-public-to-beware-of-covid-19-scams/article_8e47bf12-3011-5dda-a5ca-072ca9f949e2.html (last accessed April 6, 2020).
- Marvis Herring, “That’s a scam: Indiana federal agents share COVID-19 crime trends,” CBS – WLKY (Indiana) (April 3, 2020). Available at: https://www.wlky.com/article/thats-a-scam-indiana-federal-agents-share-covid-19-crime-trends/32036154# (last accessed April 6, 2020).
- Federal Trade Commission – Consumer Information, “Avoid Coronavirus Scams.” Available at: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/coronavirus-scams-what-ftc-doing (last accessed April 6, 2020).