The coronavirus might be creating challenges for many businesses, but it appears to be business as usual for people out to make an easy buck. In fact, as of the beginning of August, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) had logged more than 152,000 consumer fraud complaints related to COVID-19
In total, victims have reported losing $97.4 million, with a median loss of $272. And according to some experts, that’s not the full story since most fraud is never officially reported.
Fraudsters are using the full suite of scam tools — phishing emails and texts, robocalls, impostor schemes and more — and closely following the headlines, adapting their messages and tactics as new medical and economic concerns arise.
What can you do? Be prepared and knowledgeable. The FTC offers these tips to help you fight back against scammers:
- Treatments and Cures
When there is a medical breakthrough in the treatment or prevention of COVID-19, you’re going to hear about it! Ignore online offers for vaccinations and home test kits. If you see ads touting prevention, treatment, or cure claims for coronavirus, ignore it. An online sales pitch will not be how you learn about it. Remember, at this time, there also are no FDA-authorized home test kits for coronavirus.
One of the latest schemes has scammers impersonating contact tracers in texts and calls, claiming the contacted party has been exposed to COVID-19 and needs to act quickly. Legitimate contact tracers will not ask for insurance, personal, bank account, social security or other sensitive information.
- Email and Text Scams
Scammers can use links in text messages to install malicious code on your phone or launch a phony webpage to collect personal, health insurance, or financial information for use in other scams. Don’t click on links from sources you don’t know.
Make sure the antimalware and anti-virus software on your computer is up to date. Even if a friend sends you a text or email, if it includes suspicious links that seem out of character, call them to make sure they weren't hacked.
Hang up on illegal robocallers. Don’t give any verbal answers or press any numbers. The recording might say 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 or unintentionally give permission, instead. The best approach is to simply hang up.
- Government Relief Checks
Another hot area for scammers looking to take advantage of people. Here’s what you need to know: The government will not ask you to pay anything up front to get this money. They not call to ask for your Social Security number, bank account, or credit card number. Anyone who does is a scammer.
- Fake Charities
Do your homework when it comes to donations. Use the organizations listed at ftc.gov/charity to help you research charities. If someone wants donations in cash, by gift card, or by wiring money, don’t do it.
- Misinformation and Rumors
Before you pass on any messages, do some fact checking by contacting trusted sources. Visit usa.gov/coronavirus for links to federal, state and local government agencies.
Protect yourself and your loved ones from these, and other, coronavirus scams. Share this information with friends and family. If you experience a suspicious activity, visit the Federal Trade Commission site and report it.
For more information and consumer advice on the latest scams and schemes, visit the FTC’s Coronavirus Advice for Consumers page.