If nothing else, scammers are persistent. They’re always looking for ways to use current events to play on your fears and take advantage of uncertainty. And that’s true during the coronavirus pandemic too.
Coronavirus scams run the gamut of fraud—from bogus COVID-19 cures to criminals pretending to be government officials to work-from-home jobs that are too good to be true. You can protect yourself by understanding what scammers are after, and the tactics they use, and staying abreast of the latest scams officials uncover.
Here are some of the coronavirus scams to watch out for—and how you can avoid becoming a victim:
• “Free” virus test kits. People are understandably desperate to know whether they have the virus, and scammers know this. Older adults (many of whom are on Medicare) have even more reason to worry since they are most at risk of experiencing an extreme case of the illness. But if you receive an unsolicited phone call, text, email, or in-person offer for a free virus test kit, don’t be fooled. Scammers ask you to reveal personal information, such as your social security number, birth date, or Medicare number for a test. There are no Medicare programs (or any other health programs) that send you free, unsolicited coronavirus tests.
• Unapproved cures or treatments. The COVID-19 pandemic has left people searching for ways to cure it. Several companies have begun fraudulently claiming their products do exactly that. A “scam” A website touts a product or products—such as herbal supplements or teas, essential oils, tinctures, or colloidal silver—that can supposedly cure or prevent COVID-19. All you need to achieve peace of mind is a credit card number. Currently, there are no known cures or preventatives for the new coronavirus, other than avoiding exposure to the virus altogether. There are several vaccines in the works, but they aren’t expected to be ready for at least 18 months, and experts still aren’t sure they’ll work. If you think you have coronavirus, don’t turn to the internet for a miracle cure—call your doctor, a nurse helpline, urgent care, or an emergency room provider.
• Fake stimulus checks. On March 25, the federal government approved a $2 trillion stimulus package that includes delivering $1,200 to eligible citizens.3 Unfortunately, scammers are using this much-needed relief to steal your personal information. Posing as Internal Revenue Service (IRS) officials, scammers pressure people to give up their social security numbers, birthdates, bank account numbers, and other personal information to receive their stimulus checks.You may receive a phone call or email that seems legitimate, but don’t let the fear of missing out on your check convince you to compromise your data. Federal officials are still working out how to deliver stimulus funds to citizens, but no one will ask you for personal information to sign up for a check. And no third party has early access to this money, so don’t be fooled.
• Online shopping scams. Fraudsters have long used the internet to scam online shoppers, but during the coronavirus pandemic, they’re focusing on products that people are desperate to get their hands on. While legitimate stores are low on toilet paper, bottled water, food staples, and face masks, scammers claim to have them in spades. But they just take your money (often through untraceable forms, such as gift cards or bitcoin) and never send you what you think you’ve bought.
Food and supply shortages are real, but supply chains are reliable, so stores will replenish their shelves. Unfortunately, delivery timelines are longer than usual due to limited staffing at stores and an explosion of online orders. If you can wait for Amazon, Walmart, or other legitimate online retailers to send you what you need, do so.
The COVID-19 pandemic has inspired a whole host of scams designed to steal your money or your identity. Even though the specific scams may be new, fraudsters tend to use the same tried-and-true tactics to defraud consumers. To avoid potential scams of all kinds, now and in the future, use the following tips:
• Guard your personal, financial, medical, and company information. Don’t give this information to unsolicited callers, emailers, websites, or people you meet in person.
• Independently verify a solicitor’s identity. Double-check the legitimacy of any caller, emailer, or website by using separately obtained information, such as contact information from the organization’s official website. Call government officials back using an official phone number. Instead of clicking links in emails you receive, type email addresses of banks and government agencies directly into the URL bar yourself.
• Stay up to date on the latest coronavirus scams. We’ll update this page with new scams as we learn of them, so keep checking back.
If you fall victim to fraud, don’t be embarrassed. It happens to the best of us. Instead, act quickly. As soon as you realize what’s occurred, call your bank or credit card company to try to stop the payment. You might need to close some or all of your accounts and open new ones. Change any compromised passwords too.
Once you do these things, report the scam to the FTC using its Complaint Assistant. And if you think your social security number is compromised, use the FTC’s resources on identity theft to set things right.
Kit Casna is a Medicare writer for eligibility.com.