COVID-19 scams are changing on a daily basis, but the FTC reports the following as being the most common. Most scams related to novel coronavirus will have at least one of the features described below.
Fake COVID-19 Treatments, Products, Tests, and Cures
Scammers try to convince their targets that there is a myriad of cures, tests, or supplements to curb or cure coronavirus. The truth is that there are no vaccines or drugs that have been approved to treat or cure the virus. Nor are there in-home tests that can be taken to see whether or not you have the virus. Websites and sales pitches claiming otherwise are scams.
The FTC and the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) track such claims. The agencies have issued countless cease and desist letters to companies claiming to have products to prevent or cure COVID-19. The most common products include natural remedies like essential oils, teas, cannabinol, colloidal silver (an example is pictured to the right), and vitamin-C therapy.
The con artists also offer in-demand items such as test kits, masks, household cleaners, hand sanitizers, and more through robocalls, websites, and social media. Sellers inflate prices or make promises to deliver products that never arrive. Meanwhile, the sellers steal credit card information, addresses, and other personal information for their benefit.
COVID-19 Scams Targeting Seniors
Medicare scams continue to plague seniors in the current pandemic via phishing scam calls. In addition to the usual claims of expired cards and suspended benefits, scammers offer additional benefits related to COVID-19. They also offer testing products and “cures” available only to seniors. The senior is asked to verify information including Social Security number, bank account information, and other personal information. None of the programs actually exist. If you receive a call from someone claiming to be a Medicare representative, hang up and contact Medicare directly.
Social Security scams similarly continue to be a huge problem for seniors at this time. Scammers know that seniors and the disabled rely heavily on their monthly checks. Like Medicare scams, callers say they are representatives from the Social Security Administration. Claims include the need to update information in the system, expired or suspended benefits, or additional funds available due to the pandemic. Again, the claims are false. Check the Social Security website for more information on Social Security-related scams and how to file a complaint.
COVID-19 Scams Targeting Small Businesses
Many businesses are struggling to remain open and survive during the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to the changes in the workplace that coronavirus has created, there’s now a number of new scams targeting non-essential employees who are working from home. This has led to an increase in CEO scams and IT scams.
In the CEO scam, an employee gets a call from someone claiming to be the CEO, owner, or an executive at the company they work for. They ask that a wire transfer be issued for a certain amount of money. Employees are falling more for this scam because not only are they not in the office, but there have also been a number of refunds, cancelled orders, and other atypical financial transactions during this period.
In the IT scam, an employee will also get a call, but this time from someone claiming to be in their company’s IT department. They’ll ask the employee for sensitive information such as database and payment login and password information.
Thirdly, telecommuting employees are more likely to answer calls from unknown numbers which puts them at a higher risk for robocall scams.
Essential workers and businesses are also vulnerable to scams. As many essential businesses struggle to find supplies such as masks, gloves, and cleaning products they are often falling victim to fraudulent companies. The companies will claim to have the supplies the essential business needs only to steal credit card information.
CARES Act Stimulus Check Scams
Many Americans are awaiting stimulus checks made possible under the federal CARES Act. The CARES Act offers individuals some economic relief due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The IRS and FTC report a dramatic increase in phone calls, emails, websites and social media posts offering assistance with stimulus payments. They may offer to expedite payment for a fee. The scam involves signing over a check and providing sensitive personal and financial information.
The procedure for receiving an official “economic-impact payment” is as follows:
- Do nothing. If you filed federal taxes for 2018 and/or 2019, the IRS will send the payment automatically. People using direct deposit on their taxes will have the funds deposited into their bank accounts. Those using a mailing address will receive a check, although it will take longer.
- If you have not filed taxes for 2018 or 2019, you will have to fill out a simple tax form on the IRS website. The IRS will never call, text or email. If you have questions or concerns communicate with the IRS at irs.gov/coronavirus.
- Do not “sign up” to receive a stimulus check. The IRS has the information it needs to process and send the payments. Scammers say otherwise and will ask for information like your Social Security number, bank account information, birthdate, PayPal account, or other information.
- Checks will not arrive until May at the earliest. Anything stating otherwise is a scam. Be wary of fake checks, particularly if the sender asks for a financial return. Fake checks can leave you owing money to your bank with no recourse against the scammer.
- The check is not in the mail. Reports say that paper checks – for people without direct deposit – will start arriving in May at the earliest. So, if you get an economic impact payment, stimulus, or relief check before then, or you get a check when you’re expecting a direct deposit, it’s a scam.
- The IRS does not send overpayments. The government will never require return payments in cash, on gift cards or via wire transfer.