Coronavirus scams are spreading nearly as fast as the virus itself.
As of April 16, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) had received 20,334 consumer complaints related to the outbreak, including more than 11,000 fraud complaints. Victims have reported losses of $15.6 million, with a median loss of $559.
Fraudsters are using the full suite of scam tools — phishing emails and texts, robocalls, impostor schemes and more — and closely following the headlines, adapting their messages and tactics as new medical and economic concerns arise. For example, as coronavirus testing has ramped up in recent weeks, fake testing sites popped up in several states.
Here are some other types of coronavirus scams scams to look out for.
In-demand products and bogus cures
No vaccines or drugs have been approved specifically to treat or prevent COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. That hasn’t stopped fraudsters from flooding consumers with pitches for phony remedies.
The FTC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have sent more than 40 warnings to companies selling unapproved products they claim can cure or prevent COVID-19 and shut down a website that was promoting a nonexistent vaccine,.
Teas, essential oils, cannabinol, colloidol 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 claim to be selling or offering in-demand supplies such as surgical 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.
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With most Americans set to receive stimulus checks under the federal CARES Act, the Internal Revenue Service is warning of a wave of schemes promising to speed up your payment. Watch out for calls or emails, purportedly from government agencies, that use the term “stimulus” (the official term is “economic-impact payment”) and ask you to sign over a check or provide personal information like your Social Security number.
Other coronavirus financial scams target small businesses with promises of quick capital or help with Google search results. With unemployment and economic anxiety rising, crooks impersonating banks and lenders are offering bogus help with bills, credit card debt or student loan forgiveness.
The outbreak has also spawned stock scams. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is warning investors about fraudsters touting investments in companies with products that supposedly can prevent, detect or cure COVID-19. Buy those stocks now, they say, and they will soar in price.
It’s a classic penny-stock fraud called “pump and dump.” The con artists have already bought the stocks, typically for a dollar or less. As the hype grows and the stock price increases, they dump the stock, saddling other investors with big losses.
The coronavirus scams don’t stop with fake cures and bogus stock pitches. Check Point, a cybersecurity firm, notes that coronavirus websites — those with “coronavirus” or “covid” in the domain name — are 50 percent more likely to be malicious than other domains.
The trap is triggered when you contact those malicious domains: You could start getting phishing emails from fraudsters in an attempt either to plant malware on your computer or to get your personal information. Google reported in mid-April that its Gmail platform was blocking 18 million such messages a day.
These emails often appear to be from real businesses or government agencies. If you click on a link or download an attached file, you could be importing a program that uses your internet connection to spread more malware, or digs into your personal files looking for passwords and other information for purposes of identity theft.
Be careful when you browse for information about coronavirus. Developing and testing vaccines for viruses takes a long time, and you’ll hear about them first from a legitimate source, such as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the World Health Organization (WHO).
Reprinted from AARP.com