After the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak limited people's ability to earn a living and began threatening their health, many Americans found themselves in financial trouble or other dire straits. Scammers are taking advantage of people's desperation. For instance, con artists might try to:
And they'll try to do so in various ways, like through the mail, email, phone calls, social media, and texts.
In this article, you'll learn about different coronavirus scams that you might encounter through one of these channels so you can avoid them.
Every home in the United States can go online and get four at-home COVID-19 test kits from the federal government for free. Due to the high demand for these free COVID-19 tests, scammers might contact you and use techniques like:
The only website for the free at-home test kits is https://www.covidtests.gov. All you need to provide is your name and address to get four tests. The service is free. So, don't give your personal, financial, or health information, including your Social Security number, credit card number, health insurance card information, or any other personally identifiable information to anyone who says they need these details to send you a free test kit. Also, ignore emails or websites offering at-home tests or claiming you can get your kits sooner, and don't click on any links from unknown sources.
If you decide to buy additional tests online, make sure the tests you're buying are FDA-authorized and vet the seller before you buy. Also, be sure to pay by credit card.
With several different coronavirus vaccines now available, scammers are trying to take advantage of people's desire to get vaccinated. Avoid anyone who claims to have vaccine doses for sale. State agencies, local public health agencies, clinics, community partnerships, the federal government's Pharmacy Partnership for Long-term Care (LTC) Program, and hospitals, like U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals and private hospitals, will distribute vaccines. You can't get one from an individual hawking them over the Internet or phone. Any vaccine you get should only be through a licensed medical professional.
And, of course, don't give your bank account information, Social Security number, or credit card number to anyone who contacts you about the vaccine. If you get a call, text, or email, or a person comes to your door and asks for this information, do not respond.
Some scammers claim to have COVID-19 experimental treatments you can buy. Ignore them.
When certain items—like hand sanitizer, cleaning products, and toilet paper—became popular following the coronavirus outbreak, con artists created fake websites offering these products for sale. But after you send the money, you won't receive anything. To avoid becoming a victim of this type of fraud, be careful about where you do your shopping. It's best to stay away from websites you don't know. But if you decide to buy from an unfamiliar site, research the company first to make sure it's legitimate and look for the padlock symbol next to the URL bar and the "s" in "https," which means the site is encrypted, and your payment information will be secure.
With the COVID-19 national emergency limiting many people's ability to work, you might be among the millions of people who find themselves unemployed or underemployed. Scammers might offer you a job that pays a lot for a small amount of work that you can do from home.
If you respond, the scammer might ask you to send a small amount of money for training or special equipment. Or the scammer could ask for your bank account information to directly deposit your pay. But instead of giving you a job, the con artist takes your money or the information you provided and uses it to take whatever money you have left or steal your identity.
Charity scams are common, especially when a major event like a natural disaster (such as a pandemic) happens. Before donating to a charity online, check with the Better Business Bureau to find out if the charity is real and trustworthy. You can also see if a charity is tax-exempt at the IRS website; donations to these charities might be tax-deductible. Also, be sure to follow the instructions to donate on the company's official website—not information you got in an unsolicited phone call or email.
If you're facing a financial hardship due to coronavirus, many banks, credit card companies, mortgage lenders, and other service providers offer different forms of assistance to their customers. Scammers, too, are offering "help."
A scammer might offer you debt relief services, like debt consolidation, debt settlement assistance, or a debt management plan. But, in many cases, for-profit companies selling these kinds of services are fraudsters who provide little or no help after you've agreed to pay them. Even if a debt relief company does try to help you, you'll have to pay a lot for something that you could do yourself or would be better off paying to an attorney or respectable credit counseling company, like the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC).
Foreclosure rescue companies often send emails or letters (though they might call or text, too) that promise to save your home from foreclosure. The communication will probably say something like "Stop Foreclosure Now," "Get a Loan Modification," or "Save Your Home From Creditors." If you're behind on your mortgage payments, these letters might sound like a lifeline.
But this kind of scammer uses lies, exaggeration, misinformation, and pressure to get you to sign up for foreclosure rescue services. The different scams vary slightly but pretty much result in the same thing—the con artist pockets your cash, and you end up no better, and maybe even worse, off than you were before.
Be careful with emails that claim to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), or experts that supposedly have information about the coronavirus, like universities or doctors. These messages might have malicious attachments. If you click on a link or open an attachment, it might install ransomware or other programs that can lock you out of your data. Or a link might take you to a fraudulent website designed to trick you into revealing sensitive information.
So, avoid clicking on links in unsolicited emails and don't open attachments. And make sure your device, browser, apps, antivirus, and anti-malware software are all up to date.
If you suspect you're a victim of a coronavirus scam, contact:
By reporting a scam, you might be able to help someone else avoid becoming a victim.