Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, phone scammers have been using robocalls and call-back scams to prey on consumer fear and confusion. Scam calls have offered free home testing kits, fake health insurance, bogus vaccine appointments, and the promise of financial relief.
With direct payments from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 scheduled to begin for eligible families on July 15, 2021, consumers should be on alert for scams using these payments as bait.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently reminded consumers: Only the IRS will be sending these payments (learn more at https://www.irs.gov/coronavirus) and no one from a legitimate entity will call, text, email, or direct message you to verify your personal information or bank account details in order to "release" any funds. Anyone who does is a scammer.
In March 2021, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a fraud alert warning against COVID-19 vaccine schemes and encouraging consumers to be mindful of potentially fraudulent activity related to vaccine distribution. Multiple agencies, including the FBI and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, have partnered with HHS to amplify the alert, and the FTC is sharing tips on how to avoid vaccine-related scams and asking consumers to report them to ReportFraud.ftc.gov.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning about fraudulent COVID-19 products, such as free virus test kits, in an effort to collect consumers' personal and health insurance information. One pernicious version of this scam targeted higher risk individuals with diabetes, offering a free COVID-19 testing kit along with a free diabetic monitor. Other robocalls have promoted fake cures and solicited payment for them over the phone.
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 warning urges people to be wary of phone calls and text messages that impersonate the WHO and ask for account information or for money.
The FCC is also aware of robocall scams with COVID-19 themed work-from-home, debt consolidation, and student loan repayment offers. (For legitimate information about the coronavirus-related interest rate deferral on student loans, check Federal Student Aid's website.)
Consumers aren't the only target. Small businesses have also received scam calls about virus-related funding or loans.
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."
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has joined HHS and other law enforcement partners in a coordinated effort to combat health care fraud related to COVID-19. As part of that effort, DOJ has a hotline for consumers who believe they have been a victim of a scam or fraud related to COVID-19. The National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline is 1-866-720-5721.
The Department of Justice has ja hotline for consumers who believe they have been a victim of a scam or fraud related to COVID-19. The National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline is 1-866-720-5721.
If you think you've been a victim of a coronavirus scam, contact law enforcement immediately.
The FCC offers the following tips to help protect you 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.)
File coronavirus scam complaints online with the Federal Trade Commission.