As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact the United States, phone scammers have seized the opportunity, using robocalls and call-back scams to offer free home testing kits, promote bogus cures, sell health insurance, and promise financial relief.
In March, the World Health Organization issued a warning about criminals seeking to take advantage of the pandemic in order to steal money or sensitive personal information. The warning urges people to be wary of phone calls and text messages that purport to be from WHO, asking for account information or for money.
Reports have also been received about robocalls purporting to offer free virus test kits in an effort to collect consumers' personal and health insurance information. One pernicious version of this scam targets higher risk individuals with diabetes, offering a free COVID-19 testing kit along with a free diabetic monitor. Other robocalls are marketing fake cures and asking for payment over the phone.
Yet another robocall message purports to be from the U.S. Department of Health, warning of an outbreak "in your area." The message recommends getting a vaccine and offers to connect you to a "health advisor."
Fraudsters are also preying on financial fears tied to the pandemic. The FCC is aware of robocall scams with COVID-19 themed work-from-home opportunities, debt consolidation offers, and student loan repayment plans. (For legitimate information about the coronavirus-related interest rate deferral on student loans, check FSA's website.)
Many consumers are receiving checks as part of the federal government response to the coronavirus. No one will call or text you to verify your 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 information that the department has on file from prior tax filings.
More recently, a number of well established robocall scams have adapted their pitches to mention the virus. Auto warranty calls may now include a warning about needing financial security and protection from a mechanical failure in these "uncertain times."
If you think you've been a victim of a coronavirus scam, contact law enforcement immediately.
The FCC offers the following tips to help you protect yourself from scams, including coronavirus scams:
- Do not respond to calls or texts from unknown numbers, or any others that appear suspicious.
- Never share your personal or financial information via email, text messages, or over the phone.
- Be cautious if you’re being pressured to share any information or make a payment immediately.
- Scammers often spoof phone numbers to trick you into answering or responding. Remember that government agencies will never call you to ask for personal information or money.
- Do not click any links in a text message. If a friend sends you a text with a suspicious link that seems out of character, call them to make sure they weren't hacked.
- Always check on a charity (for example, by calling or looking at its actual website) before donating. (Learn more about charity scams.)