The FBI has reported a rise in Coronavirus-related scams designed to trick victims into giving up money or personal or financial information. Learn these tips to better protect yourself and your loved ones.
COVID-19 Scammers May Impersonate Government Agencies or Other Legitimate Organizations
Several government agencies have issued warnings to consumers about fraudulent emails or calls impersonating government agencies or officials.
The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) advises individuals to watch out for fake emails from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that encourage the recipient to click on a link that either delivers malware designed to steal personal information or locks the computer and demands payment. The World Health Organization (WHO) has also reported fraudulent email messages claiming to be from WHO.
According to the FBI’s IC3, other Coronavirus-related phishing emails may claim to be related to:
- Charitable contributions
- Financial relief
- Airline refunds
- Fake cures and vaccines
- Fake COVID-19 testing kits
Beware of Counterfeit Treatments and Undelivered Products
According to reports, the Department of Justice is pursuing a case against the operators of a website that fraudulently claimed to sell a WHO COVID-19 vaccine kit. (There are currently no approved vaccines, drugs, or investigational products to treat or prevent the Coronavirus, according to the Food and Drug Administration.)
In other instances, fraudulent online sellers may claim they have high-demand products, like cleaning or health supplies, but never deliver the purchased products to buyers.
The FBI warns individuals to be cautious of potential scammers selling products that claim to prevent, treat, diagnose, or cure COVID-19. The agency also warns of sellers of counterfeit products, such as N95 respirator masks, goggles, and gloves.
Tips to Better Protect Yourself and Your Loved Ones from COVID-19 Scams
- Use extra caution with any COVID-19-related emails - The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) advises individuals to exercise caution with any email they receive with COVID-19 in the subject line, attachment, or hyperlink. The agency also advises individuals to be wary of any social media solicitations, texts, or calls related to COVID-19.
- Beware of impersonations - Consumers should watch out for emails claiming to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), or other agencies or experts claiming they have information about the virus. The FTC advises visiting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) websites for up-to-date information.
- Don’t click on links or open attachments in unsolicited emails - It’s best to avoid clicking on links or opening attachments in any unsolicited email. Do not provide a username, password, date of birth, Social Security number, financial data, or other personal information in response to an email. Always verify the web address and manually type it into your browser. It’s also a good idea to check for misspellings or wrong domains within a link (for example, an address that should end in a ".gov" ends in .com" instead)
- Hang up on robocalls - Coronavirus scammers may be using illegal robocalls to attempt to sell scam treatments or cures. If you receive a robocall, it’s best to hang up immediately and not press any numbers. In some cases, a robocall recording may state that pressing a number will remove you from their call list or transfer you to an operator, but that action may actually lead to more robocalls.
- Watch out for government check scammers - The FTC believes that fraudsters may already be developing scams relating to proposed government-issued checks in response to the Coronavirus. The agency says that the government will not ask individuals to pay anything in advance in order to receive the funds and will not call to ask individuals for their Social Security number, bank account, or credit card number.
- Verify seller information before making an online purchase - It’s best to thoroughly research online sellers before making a purchase. Experts advise searching online for the person or company’s name, phone number and email address, plus words like “review,” “complaint” or “scam.” It’s also recommended to pay by credit card and keep a record of the transaction. Consumers are advised to contact state consumer protection officials with concerns about the pricing of products. A complete list of state Attorneys General is available at naag.org.
- Ignore online offers for vaccinations - According to the FDA, there currently are no vaccines, pills, or other prescription or over-the-counter products available to treat or cure Coronavirus, and there also are no FDA-authorized Coronavirus home test kits. More information can be found on the FDA’s web page on COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions.
- Research charitable organizations - It’s advisable to do your homework before making any donations, whether through charities or crowdfunding sites. The FTC further advises individuals to pay by credit card, and never by gift card or wire transfer, as that could indicate a scam. Be aware that some scammers use names that sound similar to the names of legitimate charities in order to trick victims into donating. Review the FTC’s page on Charity Scams for more information.
If You Believe You Have Been a Victim of a Coronavirus-Related Scam
- If you believe you have been the victim of a Coronavirus-related scam, report it to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.
- If you believe you have been sold counterfeit products, report it to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov, as well as to the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center at iprcenter.gov.