As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, phone scammers are using robocalls and call-back scams to prey on consumer fear and confusion. Scam calls offer home testing kits, promote bogus vaccine distribution, sell health insurance, and promise financial relief, according to AARP, YouMail, and the Better Business Bureau (BBB).
The AARP said that after a short decline in robocalls in 2020 there has been a noticeable increase of robocalls attributed to the pandemic. Scammers have tailored their messages to coincide with the evolution of medical, financial, and even mental issues related to the virus.
The Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG) issued a fraud alert warning against COVID-19 scams encouraging consumers to be mindful of potentially fraudulent activity.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also issued a warning about robocalls offering fraudulent COVID-19 products, such as free virus test kits, in an effort to collect consumers' personal and health insurance information. One malicious version of this scam targeted higher risk people with diabetes, offering a free COVID-19 testing kit along with a free diabetic monitor. Other robocalls have promoted fake cures and solicited payment over the phone.
Fraudsters also prey 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.)
Consumers aren't the only target. Small businesses have also received scam calls about virus-related funding or loans.
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.
In a concerted effort to combat health care fraud related to COVID-19, the Department of Justice (DOJ) created a hotline for consumers who believe they have been a victim of a scam or fraud related to the pandemic. The National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline is 1-866-720-5721.
Internationally, the World Health Organization (WHO) has posted warnings about criminals seeking to take advantage of the pandemic in order to steal money or sensitive personal information. The warnings urge people to be wary of phone calls and text messages that impersonate the WHO and ask for money or account information.
If you think you've been a victim of a coronavirus scam, contact law enforcement immediately.