How to Identify and Avoid Coronavirus Scams

Don’t fall victim to a COVID-19 scam.

With the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak limiting people's ability to earn a living and threatening their health, many Americans find themselves in financial trouble or other dire straits. Scammers are taking advantage of people’s desperation. For instance, con artists might try to:

  • take your stimulus check
  • get you to pay for early access to the coronavirus vaccine
  • sell you a bogus coronavirus treatment, or
  • trick you out of your personal information so they can steal your identity.

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.

Stimulus Check Scams

On December 27, 2020, the president signed a bill approving a second coronavirus stimulus check. The second check will be for $600 per person, which means those who file joint returns will get $1,200, and individuals with children will get an extra $600 per child under the age of 17. If you have income over specified limits, you'll receive less.

Scammers are, of course, trying a wide variety of methods to get their hands on Americans’ coronavirus stimulus money. Be on the lookout for:

  • suspicious “checks” you receive in the mail asking you to verify information online or call a phone number to cash it
  • communications from people claiming they can expedite the process of getting your stimulus payment
  • phony websites that supposedly help you get your stimulus check, and
  • calls or emails from someone claiming to be working for the government or your bank, asking you to verify your account number so you can get a direct deposit.

Scammers use these tactics to try to get you to give them your confidential personal information like your Social Security number, bank account number, login IDs, and passwords. The scammer then uses that information to steal your money, your identity, or both.

Also, beware of any communication or website that refers to the payment informally as a "stimulus check." The official name of the payment is an "economic impact payment." You can find legitimate information about the stimulus payments on the IRS website.

Vaccine Scams

With several different coronavirus vaccines now available, state and federal officials are working on getting the shots to millions of people across the United States. But the vaccine is still months away from being available for many. Of course, scammers have taken notice and are trying to take advantage of people’s desperation to get vaccinated.

You should 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.

Also, be aware of the following:

  • You can't get on a list to get an early vaccine.
  • You can't pay to get earlier access to the vaccine.

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.

Coronavirus Treatment and Product Scams

Some scammers claim to have COVID-19 experimental treatments you can buy. Ignore them.

With certain items—like hand sanitizer, cleaning products, and toilet paper—in short supply, con artists have 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 swindle, 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.

Work-From-Home Schemes

With the COVID-19 national emergency limiting many people’s ability to work, you might be among the millions of people who suddenly 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.

Fake Charities

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.

Debt Reduction and Foreclosure Relief Scams

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.”

Debt Relief Scams

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 paid 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 Scams

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.

Fake Emails From the CDC or WHO

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.

For the most up-to-date information about the coronavirus, go to the CDC and the WHO's official websites.

Reporting Coronavirus Scams

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.

If you become aware of a scam related to stimulus check, report it to the IRS online and the FTC.

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