According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), scammers are using illegal robocalls to seed Coronavirus fears and trick victims into handing over money or personal information. Fraudsters are reportedly impersonating the Social Security Administration, offering fake Coronavirus tests, and promoting bogus cures among other tactics. Learn how to better protect yourself and your loved ones from Coronavirus-related robocall scams.
What Is a Robocall?
A robocall is when an individual picks up the phone and hears a recorded message instead of a live person. Robocalls attempting to sell something are illegal, unless the company has written permission to contact the person in that way.
Under the FTC’s rules, there are a few types of robocalls allowed without permission, such as automated political calls and messages from charities. Other types of automated informational calls that are legal include appointment and prescription reminders, school delay announcements, and flight updates.
However, it’s likely a scam if a robocall offers free or discounted services, contacts the recipient without previous consent, or instructs the recipient to press a button to be taken off a call list.
Coronavirus-Related Robocalls Are On the Rise
Both the FTC and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) have reported that phone scammers are taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to prey on consumers. According to one report, fraudsters may be placing one million or more suspicious Coronavirus-related calls every day to Americans’ smartphones. Robocall scammers may:
- Promote fake cures and ask for payment over the phone
- Offer HVAC duct cleaning as a way to protect against the virus
- Take advantage of financial fears by offering scam student loan repayment plans or debt consolidation
- Impersonate the Social Security Administration
- Offer fake Coronavirus tests to Medicare recipients
- Push fraudulent testing services
- Offer bogus low-priced health insurance
- Offer medical equipment and testing to higher risk individuals, such as those with diabetes
- Promote work-at-home schemes
Experts worry that some potential victims, including seniors, may be more vulnerable to these types of scams because of social distancing.
Tips to Better Protect Yourself and Your Loved Ones from COVID-19 Robocalls
- Hang up immediately - Experts advise individuals to hang up immediately and avoid pressing any numbers. Some recordings may say that pressing a number will transfer the call to a live operator or remove the number from their call list, but in fact, it could lead to more robocalls.
- Do not provide personal or financial information - The FBI advises that individuals never provide their username, password, date of birth, Social Security number, financial data, or other personal information in response to a robocall.
- Beware of scams regarding possible government-issued checks - The FCC states that no one will call or text to verify personal information or bank account details in order to release the funds. The Treasury Department expects most people to receive their payments via direct deposit using information on file from prior tax filings.
- Don’t trust caller ID - Scammers often fake the name and number that shows up on caller ID so it looks like the call originates from a government agency or a local number. According to the FCC, government agencies will never call you to ask for personal information or money.
- Be wary of unknown numbers - The FCC advises consumers not to respond to calls or texts from unknown numbers or any other suspicious numbers. Consider asking your phone provider if it offers call-blocking tools.
- Report the call - Report robocalls to the FTC on their FTC Complaint Assistant page. This action could help the FTC track down the scammers behind the call.
What to Do If You Believe You Are a Victim
- If you believe you have been the victim of a robocall scam, report it to the FTC on their FTC Complaint Assistant page.
- For more information about avoiding Coronavirus scams, visit the FTC’s web page Coronavirus Scams: What the FTC Is Doing.
- For more information on stopping robocalls and other unwanted calls, visit the FTC’s web page How to Stop Unwanted Calls.
- For the most up-to-date information about the Coronavirus, the FTC recommends visiting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) web sites.