As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads, so does uncertainty and fear: two elements that con artists thrive on. During these stressful times, BBB recommends consumers to be especially alert to avoid falling for a scam. Below are the top six coronavirus scams along with as tips to help identify and avoid them.
1. Phony Cures and Fake Masks
BBB Scam Tracker has received numerous reports of people receiving emails and messages claiming that, for a price, they can buy products the government is supposedly keeping secret – ways to prevent or cure coronavirus. Medical experts are working hard to find a coronavirus vaccine, but none currently exists.
For more information on coronavirus cure scams, see the article BBB Scam Alert: Afraid of Getting Sick? Don’t Fall for a Coronavirus Con.
2. Economic Impact Payment (Stimulus Check) Scams
As soon as stimulus packages are announced and approved, scammers quickly get to work sending out fake economic impact checks and asking consumers to pay fees to get their money earlier than what the IRS has promised. These claims are false and open consumers to the risk of identity theft and outright theft of the funds in their bank account.
To learn more about economic impact check scams, see the article, Scam Alert: Government Relief Checks Trigger Latest Coronavirus Scam.
To learn more about the COVID-19 Economic Response Plan in Canada, please see the article, BBB Tip: Canada provides support to businesses, employees; for consumers, please refer to the Canadian Government’s website.
3. Phishing Scams
Several people are now working from home and con artists have stepped up their phishing scams. They may claim to be from an official department of the employer to offer IT support or claim the company issued computer has a virus. They may use scare tactics, stating the computer will crash if you don’t act immediately, all in an attempt to gain access to your computer remotely, or to your personal or company’s information.
For more information on coronavirus phishing scams see the articles, BBB Scam Alert: Working from home? Beware of scams targeting at-home workers and BBB Tips: 10 Tips to Stay Cyber Secure When Working Remotely.
4. Government Impersonation
Another common phishing scam brought on by the coronavirus pandemic is fake emails and text messages claiming the government needs you to take an “online coronavirus test” by clicking a link they provide. No such test currently exists but if you click on the link, scammers can download malware onto your computer and gain access to your sensitive personal information.
For more information on coronavirus phishing scams see the article BBB Scam Alert: “Mandatory” COVID-19 Test Texts are a Scam. In Canada, report these cases to the Anti-Fraud Centre.
5. Employment Scams
Many people are looking for work online in the wake of coronavirus shutdowns. Fraudsters find ways to take advantage of this by posting phony work-from-home jobs promising remote work with good pay and no interview required. These cons often use real company names and can be very convincing.
After you are “hired,” the company may charge you upfront for “training.” You may need to provide your personal and banking information to run a credit check or set up direct deposit. You may be “accidentally” overpaid with a fake check and asked to deposit the check and wire back the difference. Or, you are asked to buy expensive equipment and supplies to work at home.
To protect yourself from employment scams, see the article, Scam Alert: Coronavirus Creates “Perfect Storm” for Scammers.
6. Shortage Scams (Price Gouging)
Supplies such as hand sanitizer, face masks, and toilet paper are selling out in stores across the U.S. and Canada. Scammers take advantage of this situation and stockpile items in high demand. Then, they seek out potential clients, online and in person, and sell the products at extremely high prices. Price gouging is illegal and high demands for products can lead to con artists selling products that are used, defective, or otherwise mishandled. In some cases, scammers will con people out of their money by accepting payments for products that don’t exist.
This has been an issue with face masks. Masks are sold out in most local stores and major online sellers. Instead, consumers are turning to unfamiliar online shops. Unfortunately, phony sellers abound. These scam online retailers take shoppers’ money – as well as personal information – and never deliver the masks.
For more information on mask scams, see the article BBB Scam Alert: Preparing for Coronavirus? That Face Mask Could be a Con. To learn more about coronavirus price gouging schemes, see the article, BBB Alert: Coronavirus price gouging is up; consumers should report inflated prices.
How to Avoid Coronavirus Scams
These scams will evolve as the pandemic crisis continues sometimes mimicking one scam for another. Being prepared to spot and reports scams is more critical than ever.
- Report price gouging. Anyone who suspects price gouging during a declared state of emergency should report it to BBB.org/AdTruth. This nonprofit organization will follow up with reported companies and will work with the appropriate agencies to address particularly grievous cases.
- Think twice before you click. If you receive an unsolicited text or email from someone you don’t know asking you to click on a link, don’t do it. In a reported recent scam, consumers received SMS messages saying a mandatory online coronavirus test was necessary, one they could complete by clicking a link. Scammers are using links and attachments like these that will download malware onto your electronic devices and steal personal information.
- Do your homework. Even if a call or message seems to come from an official source, research it before handing over sensitive information, such as your name, address, or banking information. Scammers often try to earn consumers’ trust by impersonating reputable, official institutions.
- Don’t accept calls from strangers. Con artists may call your home claiming to work for the government or healthcare system. Remember, neither the government nor any healthcare-related agencies make unsolicited calls to individuals.
- Avoid any “miracle” cures. Some scammers have been advertising miraculous cures and secret government vaccines The claims are false as there are no U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved vaccines or drugs to prevent coronavirus, and no approved vaccines, drugs, or products specifically for curing coronavirus available for purchase online or in stores.
- Watch out for employment and unemployment scams. If you are looking for work and find an online job offer that sounds too good to be true, beware. Con artists use job offers to steal your identity or banking information, or complete complex tasks for free as a trial. In addition, if you find yourself unemployed, only apply for unemployment benefits through official channels, otherwise, your personal information will be at risk.
- Research before you donate. If you feel compelled to support a coronavirus related cause with a financial donation, make sure the charity is legitimate. Check with Give.org to verify the trustworthiness of the soliciting charity.
- Be alert to stimulus payment scams. According to official sources, payments are expected to be issued automatically, with no action required from most people. No one will call, email or text you from the government about your check, and you should never pay any fees to receive your stimulus payment. Nor should you receive a message on how to find out the status of your stimulus payment. To get the latest updates on economic impact payments, check the official irs.gov website regularly.