Beware These Coronavirus Scams: Fake Coronavirus Treatments & More

The current global pandemic has ushered in a new crop of schemes, including its namesake, the coronavirus scam.  Not even the federal government is exempt: a Georgia man attempted to sell the Department of Veterans Affairs nonexistent medical equipment, including 125 million masks, for $750 million.

You may not have millions of dollars to spare, but scam artists target us regular folks, too.  These crimes occur by email, phone and internet, preying upon the most vulnerable.  With just a little knowledge, though, you can put some distance between you and the scammers.  Following are some common schemes to watch for.

COVID-19 Cures

Scammers come with many offerings.  How about televangelist Jim Bakker hawking colloidal silver as a coronavirus cure on his weekly television show?  Or price gouging at your local health-food store for some exotic natural antibiotic.  Don’t forget the suspicious pop-up message offering COVID-19 screenings, face masks, health insurance and more.

At the time of this writing, there are no known cures, vaccinations or testing kits approved for at-home use by the Food and Drug Administration.  You should always be cautious about where you shop online.  But during the pandemic, take extra care.  Only enter payment information on websites you trust.  Here are a few ways to tell if a website is legitimate: 

  • Look for “https” in the address bar rather than “http.”  The S stands for “secure” and signals that the site is encrypted and protects any sensitive information you may enter.
  • Read the privacy policy to understand how your information will be used.
  • Look for the website’s contact information.
  • If you see suspicious pop-ups, leave the site.  It takes just one click to accidentally download malware.
  • If you are redirected to a site other than the one you entered in the address bar, close the window.
  • Heed the warnings of your search engine.  If it says the site may not be safe, pay attention.

Stimulus Scams

Stimulus scams prey on Americans expecting to receive a $1,200 check that the government is sending to millions of Americans.  Generally the victim will receive a phishing email or a phone call from someone masquerading as either a government representative or your bank.  The communications look official, but it’s actually an attempt to steal your credit-card number, log-in details and more.

If your 2018 or 2019 tax refund was automatically deposited in your bank account, the government already has the information it needs.  In cases where the government is missing the information, visit the IRS website to check your status as instructed.  As a last resort, the check will be mailed to the most recent address on file.  That person on the phone, or that “official” letter?  That’s a scam.

Charity Scams

Charity scams crop up during every major crisis — Hurricane Katrina, 9/11 and other tragedies.  Requests for money generally come via a phone call or email.  Thoroughly investigate any company if you plan to donate money.  There are plenty of real charities that actually do help those affected by COVID-19 – just be sure to do your research.

First, check the IRS Tax-Exempt Organization Search Tool.  The charity should appear there.  However, just because an organization is in good standing with the IRS doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a company that deserves your donation.  Also, entities such as churches, synagogues and mosques are automatically tax-exempt.  For this reason, they do not appear on the list.  So don’t stop there.

There are several ways you can conduct more in-depth research:

  • Check the non-profit’s activity on sites such as Guidetstar, which boasts of having the most complete, up-to-date nonprofit data available
  • Contact the Secretary of State for the state where the charity is located.
  • Request information from the company itself, such as a mission statement or cost analysis.
  • Look for social media reviews.

Be wary of charities that use high-pressure tactics or send up other red flags.  If something doesn’t look right, it probably isn’t.

Work-From-Home Scams

There are plenty of legitimate work-from-home opportunities.  But with millions of Americans temporarily out of work and looking for a side gig, there are also many scams.  The most innocuous ones are the get-rich-quick schemes that really are jobs, just not as lucrative as they promise.

Walk away from any job that requests money for training or equipment.  Don’t provide bank-account information unless you know who you’re dealing with.  It’s relatively easy using any search engine to investigate large, publicly held companies.  For smaller companies and unknown online entities, you’ll need to dig a little deeper.  Get the names of actual people and do your research before you accept a position.

Immunity From Scams

Whether it’s a person or a company you need to check out, you can do it with Spokeo.  Spokeo’s robust search tools provide an easy way to verify the people attempting to sell you a coronavirus-related product.  Before you fork over your hard-earned cash or personal information, make sure you know who you’re dealing with.