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Avoid Coronavirus Scams

Scammers are taking advantage of fears surrounding the Coronavirus.

Coronavirus checks: flattening the scam curve

April 8, 2020 by Karen Hobbs, Assistant Director, Division of Consumer and Business Education, FTC 

There’s a lot to worry about when it comes to the Coronavirus crisis, including the new ways scammers are using the economic impact payments (so-called “stimulus checks”) to trick people. To keep ahead of scammers who are trying to cash in on those payments, read on.

Scammers have no shame, and nothing – not even a global health crisis – is off limits. They’re pitching fake Coronavirus vaccines, unproven cures, and bogus at-home testing kits. So, it’s not surprising that scammers are exploiting confusion about economic impact payments too. But it’s still shameful.

Most people who qualify for a check will automatically get it direct deposited by the IRS within weeks. But as details emerge about how and when payments will arrive, some scammers may start using official-looking fake checks to steal money and confuse people into turning over personal information. Here’s some information to help avoid fake check scams that might be arriving soon.

  • The check’s not in the mail – yet. Reports say that paper checks – for people without direct deposit – will start arriving in May at the earliest. So, if you get an economic impact payment, stimulus, or relief check before then, or you get a check when you’re expecting a direct deposit, it’s a scam. 
  • The IRS will not send you an overpayment and make you send the money back in cash, gift cards, or through a money transfer. If you get an official-looking check for more than what you were expecting – say, for $3,000 – the next call you’re likely to get is from a scammer. They’ll tell you to keep your $1,200 payment, and return the rest by sending cash, gift cards, or money transfers. It’s a scam that will leave you owing money to your bank
  • That’s not the IRS calling, texting, or emailing. Scammers are sending official-looking messages – including postcards with a password to be used online to “access” or “verify” your payment or direct deposit information. The IRS will not contact you to collect your personal information or bank account. It’s a scam.

For trusted information and updates about IRS payments – including eligibility, how to sign up for direct deposit, or where to file a short tax form – always start with irs.gov/coronavirus. Learn how to avoid scams by subscribing to the FTC’s consumer alerts, and report scams to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.

Here are some tips to help you keep the scammers at bay:

  • Hang up on robocalls. Don’t press any numbers. Scammers are using illegal robocalls to pitch everything from scam Coronavirus treatments to work-at-home schemes. The recording might say that pressing a number will let you speak to a live operator or remove you from their call list, but it might lead to more robocalls, instead.
  • Fact-check information. Scammers, and sometimes well-meaning people, share information that hasn’t been verified. Before you pass on any messages, contact trusted sources. Visit What the U.S. Government is Doing for links to federal, state and local government agencies.
  • Know who you’re buying from. Online sellers may claim to have in-demand products, like cleaning, household, and health and medical supplies when, in fact, they don’t.
  • Don’t respond to texts and emails about checks from the government. The details are still being worked out. Anyone who tells you they can get you the money now is a scammer.
  • Don’t click on links from sources you don’t know. They could download viruses onto your computer or device.
  • Watch for emails claiming to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or experts saying they have information about the virus. For the most up-to-date information about the Coronavirus, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
  • Ignore online offers for vaccinations. There currently are no vaccines, pills, potions, lotions, lozenges or other prescription or over-the-counter products available to treat or cure Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) — online or in stores.
  • Do your homework when it comes to donations, whether through charities or crowdfunding sites. Don’t let anyone rush you into making a donation. If someone wants donations in cash, by gift card, or by wiring money, don’t do it.

Link to ftc.gov/coronavirus for the FTC’s most up-to-date information about Coronavirus scams.

FTC: Coronavirus scams, Part 2

March 19, 2020 by Colleen Tressler, Consumer Education Specialist, FTC 

Last month, we alerted you to Coronavirus scams we were seeing at the time. Earlier this month, we sent warning letters to seven sellers of scam Coronavirus treatments. So far, all of the companies have made big changes to their advertising to remove unsupported claims. But scammers don’t take a break. Here’s an update on more scams we’re seeing, and steps you can take to protect yourself, your personal information, and your wallet.

Undelivered goods: Online sellers claim they have in-demand products, like cleaning, household, and health and medical supplies. You place an order, but you never get your shipment. Anyone can set up shop online under almost any name — including scammers.

 

What to do: Check out the seller by searching online for the person or company’s name, phone number and email address, plus words like “review,” “complaint” or “scam.” If everything checks out, pay by credit card and keep a record of your transaction. If you’re concerned about the pricing of products in your area, contact your state consumer protection officials. For a complete list of state Attorneys General, visit naag.org.

Fake charities: When a major health event — like the Coronavirus — happens, you might be looking for ways to help. Scammers use the same events to take advantage of your generosity. Some scammers use names that sound a lot like the names of real charities. This is one reason it pays to do some research before giving. Money lost to bogus charities means less donations to help those in need.

What to do: Use these organizations to help you research charities. When you give, pay safely by credit card — never by gift card or wire transfer.

Fake emails, texts and phishing: Scammers use fake emails or texts to get you to share valuable personal information — like account numbers, Social Security numbers, or your login IDs and passwords. They use your information to steal your money, your identity, or both. They also use phishing emails to get access to your computer or network. If you click on a link, they can install ransomware or other programs that can lock you out of your data. Scammers often use familiar company names or pretend to be someone you know. Here’s a real-world example of a scam where phishers pretend to be the World Health Organization (WHO).

A fake email has the logo of the World Health Organization on it. (Sophos Ltd.)

WHO fake email graphic

Other scammers have used real information to infect computers with malware. For example, malicious websites used the real Johns Hopkins University interactive dashboard of Coronavirus infections and deaths to spread password-stealing malware.

What to do: Protect your computer by keeping your software up to date and by using security software, your cell phone by setting software to update automatically, your accounts by using multi-factor authentication, and your data by backing it up.

Robocalls: Scammers are using illegal robocalls to pitch everything from scam Coronavirus treatments to work-at-home schemes.

What to do: Hang up. Don’t press any numbers. The recording might say that pressing a number will let you speak to a live operator or remove you from their call list, but it might lead to more robocalls, instead.

Misinformation and rumors: Scammers, and sometimes well-meaning people, share information that hasn’t been verified.

What to do: Before you pass on any messages, and certainly before you pay someone or share your personal information, do some fact checking by contacting trusted sources. For information related to the Coronavirus, visit What the U.S. Government is Doing. There you’ll find links to federal, state and local government agencies.

To learn more, visit:

Want more information on the latest scams we’re seeing? Sign up for our consumer alerts. If you come across any scams or suspicious claims, report them to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.