Scammers Trying To Take Advantage Of COVID-19 Fears
Update April 6: United States Attorney Shares Tips for Avoiding COVID-19 Scams
SACRAMENTO, Calif.—Today, U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott warned of several new fraud schemes seeking to exploit the evolving COVID-19 (Coronavirus) public health emergency often targeting vulnerable populations.
Scammers have already devised numerous methods for defrauding people in connection with COVID-19. They are setting up websites, contacting people by phone and email, and posting disinformation on social media platforms. Some examples of scams linked to COVID-19 include:
- Testing scams: Scammers are selling fake at-home test kits or going door-to-door performing fake tests for money.
- Treatment scams: Scammers are offering to sell fake cures, vaccines, and advice on unproven treatments for COVID-19.
- Supply scams: Scammers are creating fake shops, websites, social media accounts, and email addresses claiming to sell medical supplies currently in high demand, such as surgical masks. When consumers attempt to purchase supplies through these channels, fraudsters pocket the money and never provide the promised supplies.
- Provider scams: Scammers are contacting people by phone and email, pretending to be doctors and hospitals that have treated a friend or relative for COVID-19, and demanding payment for that treatment.
- Charity scams: Scammers are soliciting donations for individuals, groups, and areas affected by COVID-19.
- Phishing scams: Scammers posing as national and global health authorities, including the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), are sending phishing emails designed to trick recipients into downloading malware or providing personal identifying and financial information.
- App scams: Scammers are creating and manipulating mobile apps designed to track the spread of COVID-19 to insert malware that will compromise users’ devices and personal information.
- Investment scams: Scammers are offering online promotions on various platforms, including social media, claiming that the products or services of publicly traded companies can prevent, detect, or cure COVID-19, and that the stock of these companies will dramatically increase in value as a result. These promotions are often styled as “research reports,” make predictions of a specific “target price,” and relate to microcap stocks, or low-priced stocks issued by the smallest of companies with limited publicly available information.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office urges Californians to take the following precautionary measures to protect themselves from known and emerging scams:
- Independently verify the identity of any company, charity, or individual that contacts you regarding COVID-19.
- Check the websites and email addresses offering information, products, or services related to COVID-19. Be aware that scammers often employ addresses that differ only slightly from those belonging to the entities they are impersonating. For example, they might use “cdc.com” or “cdc.org” instead of “cdc.gov.”
- Be wary of unsolicited emails offering information, supplies, or treatment for COVID-19 or requesting your personal information for medical purposes. Legitimate health authorities will not contact the general public this way.
- Do not click on links or open email attachments from unknown or unverified sources. Doing so could download a virus onto your computer or device.
- Make sure your computer’s anti-malware and anti-virus software is operating and up to date.
- Ignore offers for a COVID-19 vaccine, cure, or treatment. Remember, if there is a medical breakthrough, you won’t hear about it for the first time through an email, online ad, or unsolicited sales pitch.
- Check online reviews of any company offering COVID-19 products or supplies. Avoid companies whose customers have complained about not receiving items.
- Research any charities or crowdfunding sites soliciting donations in connection with COVID-19 before giving. Remember, an organization may not be legitimate even if it uses words like “CDC” or “government” in its name or has reputable looking seals or logos on its materials. For online resources on donating wisely, visit the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website.
- Be wary of any business, charity, or individual requesting payments or donations in cash, by wire transfer, gift card, or through the mail. Don’t send money through any of these channels.
- Be cautious of “investment opportunities” tied to COVID-19, especially those based on claims that a small company’s products or services can help stop the virus. If you decide to invest, carefully research the investment beforehand. For information on how to avoid investment fraud, visit the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) website.
- For the most up-to-date information on COVID-19, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) websites.
On March 23, U.S. Attorney Scott announced the appointment of a COVID-19 fraud coordinator to lead investigations into known and suspected occurrences of financial fraud related to the nation’s ongoing public health emergency.
If you think you are a victim of a scam or attempted fraud involving COVID-19, you can report it without leaving your home though a number of platforms. Go to:
- Contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721 or via email at email@example.com
- Report it to the FBI at tips.fbi.gov
- If it’s a cyber-scam, submit your complaint through https://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx
The U.S. Attorney’s Office COVID-19 fraud coordinator will be notified of tips submitted via the above reporting method.
U.S. Attorney Scott and Special Agent in Charge Carter offer the following tips on how to spot a scam and information on how the COVID-19 related economic impact payments will be issued:
- The IRS will deposit your check into the direct deposit account you previously provided on your tax return. If you usually receive tax refunds through a paper check, IRS will send you a paper check.
- The IRS will not call and ask you to verify your payment details. Do not give out your bank account, debit account, or PayPal account information — even if someone claims it is necessary to get your check. It’s a scam.
- If you receive a call, don’t engage or talk with scammers or thieves, even if you want to tell them that you know it’s a scam, or you think that you can beat them. Just hang up.
- If you receive texts or emails claiming that you can get your money faster by sending personal information or clicking on links, delete them. Do not click on any links in those texts or emails.
- Reports are also swirling about bogus checks. If you have already received or receive a check in the mail now, it’s fraud — it will take the Treasury a few weeks to mail checks out. If you receive a check for an odd amount (especially one with cents), or a check that requires that you verify the check online or by calling a number, it’s fraud.
- If you receive a request or instructions to sign over check, this is a scam.
Don’t become a victim by allowing criminals to exploit your emotions. Stay strong and tell your family, friends and neighbors about these scams.
If you believe you have been a target or victim of a scam or fraud, please report it to the National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information, visit the IRS website at www.irs.gov/coronavirus.
Original Posted March 20, 2020: Sonora, CA — Officials are warning of various scammers trying to take advantage of people who are on edge about COVID-19 concerns.
A notable scam reported in the Mother Lode has been fraudsters claiming to be from PG&E and saying that power will be shut off unless a person provides a debit card to pay a bill. In reality, PG&E has currently implemented a moratorium on service disconnections for non-payment.
Company spokesperson James Murphy says, “It’s alarming that people are trying to capitalize on the pandemic and people’s fears. Unfortunately, that’s the reality with scammers. We’ve seen a steady stream of scam calls recently and are reminding customers that PG&E will never ask for personal information or a credit card number over the phone.”
Other PG&E scam phone call tactics include:
· Notifying residents that they are eligible for a federal tax refund related to their utility bill
· Trying to sell services related to solar evaluation
· Claiming to represent a PG&E initiative to sell a product in order to gain access to their home
Additional scams to watch out for:
The Federal Trade Commission recently issued warnings to several companies claiming to have “Covid-19 cures.” The federal government says there is no cure at this time.
People have reported scammers sending text messages claiming there are free I-phones to eligible people during the pandemic.
Fraudsters are also calling and telling people they can receive a federal stimulus check sooner by providing a social security number or bank account information.
Residents should be on alert.