On March 3, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) issued its latest warning to members advising to beware of robocalls, text messages and emails promising COVID-19 cures or stimulus.
According to the agency, coronavirus scams are spreading nearly as fast as the virus itself due to the fraudsters ability to follow headlines reporting the latest on the pandemic and efforts to contain it.
The Federal Trade commissions (FTC) had recorded nearly 370,000 consumer complaints related to COVID-19 and the associated stimulus payments through March 2. The agency further noted about 69% of the complaints involved fraud and/or identity theft that resulted in the loss of nearly $358 million dollars—the average loss totaled $322.
COVID charlatans are using a variety of fraud schemes that range from phishing emails and texts, bogus social media posts, robocalls, imposter ploys and more. In the process they are adapting their messages and tactics as new medical, and economic issues are presented. For example, as the government has granted emergency vaccine authorizations, both federal and state agencies warn of a flood of vaccine scams, with phony websites and email campaigns that promise easy and early access to coronavirus shots.
In-demand Products and Bogus Cures
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) says consumers should be on the lookout for signs of vaccine scams requesting you to pay out of pocket to receive a shot or get on a vaccine waiting list, ads for vaccines on websites, social media posts, emails or phone calls, and marketers offering to sell or ship doses of COVID-19 vaccines.
The FTC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have sent dozens of warnings to companies selling unapproved products they claim can cure or prevent COVID-19. Teas, essential oils, cannabinol, colloidal silver and intravenous vitamin-C therapies are among supposed antiviral treatments hawked in clinics and on websites, social media and television shows as defenses against the pandemic.
Other scammers have claimed to sell or offer in-demand supplies such as masks, test kits and household cleaners, often in robocalls, texts or social media ads. The FTC has issued warnings to companies suspected of abetting coronavirus robocalls, and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) set up a dedicated website with information on COVID-19 phone scams.
To avoid coronavirus scams the FTC, FCC, FBI, and SEC recommend the following precautions:
- Avoid online offers for coronavirus cures or faster access to vaccines—they are not legitimate.
- Be wary of emails, calls, and social media posts advertising “free” or government-ordered COVID-19 tests. Check the FDA website for a list of approved tests and testing companies.
- Do not click on links or download files from unexpected emails, even if the email address looks like a company or person you recognize. The same holds true for text messages and unfamiliar websites.
- Do not share personal information such as Social Security, Medicare, Medical and credit card numbers in response to an unsolicited call, text, or email.
- Be skeptical of fundraising calls or emails for COVID-19 victims or virus research, especially if they pressure you to act fast and request payment by prepaid debit or gift cards.
- Ignore phone calls or emails from strangers urging you to invest in a hot new stock from a company working on coronavirus-related products or services.
(Sources: AARP, FTC, FCC, SEC, and FBI)