Grifters, scam artists, snake oil salesmen — whatever you call them, people who try to con others out of their hard-earned money have always been with us. But crises and the ensuing panic some people feel tends to bring out even more of them. The coronavirus pandemic is no exception. Here’s a rundown of the coronavirus scams out there right now.
In February, the Federal Trade Commission warned to be on the lookout for these con artists. “Scammers follow the headlines,” the FTC warned. Less than a month later, the FTC, in conjunction with the Federal Drug Administration, issued warning letters to seven companies selling “unapproved and misbranded” products claiming to cure or thwart the coronavirus. They included:
- Vital Silver
- Aromatherapy Ltd.
- GuruNanda, LLC
- Vivify Holistic Clinic
- Herbal Amy LLC
- The Jim Bakker Show
Sadly, there are many other scammers out there to be wary of. Here are some of them, followed by tips from the FTC on how to protect yourself.
1. Sellers on Amazon, eBay and elsewhere charging exorbitant prices
If you see toilet paper, hand sanitizer, cleaning products or any other items that seem ridiculously expensive, don’t buy them, no matter how badly you think you may need them right now. Price gouging — increasing prices by more than 10% during a declared public emergency — is a crime punishable by fines and up to a year in jail. That’s why these guys, who hoarded hand sanitizer, are being investigated.
What to do: First, report the seller to the platform and the FTC. Second, do not purchase the product.
2. 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.
3. Work-from-home schemes
A lot of people have lost their jobs or have had their hours dramatically cut due to the coronavirus. If you’re one of them, be aware that there are bad actors out there who may offer you a job, ask for your personal identification information, such as your Social Security number, banking or PayPal information, with no intentions of employing you.
What to do: Verify any company or individual you are unfamiliar with and considering working for by asking for their website, physical address and phone number. With this information you can follow these nine steps for verifying if they are real. You may also be able to verify with your state’s attorney general’s office if they are a listed company in your state.
4. Fake charities and relief funds for the coronavirus
Remember in the days following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, when people were falsely raising money to help victims’ families and pocketing the proceeds? It happens in almost any emergency.
What to do: Make sure to verify any organization asking for your money. If you’re unsure how to do that, just give to an organization you’re already familiar with.
5. Miraculous cures and remedies for the coronavirus
There are no current vaccines, treatments or cures for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Anyone claiming they have a product that does any of these is lying. Do not be fooled.
What to do: Do not buy the product, but gather enough information that you can report the scammer to the local authorities or the FTC.
6. Coronavirus inspections
In California, the Monterey Park Police Department issued a statement for residents to be on the lookout for anyone going door-to-door offering free coronavirus inspections. There had been no reports of this activity, but the department wanted to make residents wary of any potential con artists out and about.
What to do: Don’t answer your door for anyone you do not know. This is a general safety rule during self-isolation and quarantine.
7. 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.
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.
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.
9. 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.
It’s always wise to remember the old adage that if it sounds too good to be true, it most likely is.
Take a lesson from the many debt collection scams that have been around for years:
“Many debt collection scams start with a phone call threatening your arrest, or someone coming to serve you legal papers later that day if you don’t pay today,” said Michael Bovee, a debt expert with more than 20 years of experience, and the co-founder of Resolve.
“These threats sometimes ring true when they have enough information from a version of your credit that provides details about an account you actually remember having years ago.
“Legitimate debt collectors would never threaten your arrest, nor typically alert you to the fact you could be served.”
Here’s a summary of the ways the FTC recommends to protect yourself and others from being conned:
- 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.
- Ignore online offers for vaccinations and home test kits. There currently are no vaccines, pills, potions, lotions, lozenges or other prescription or over-the-counter products available to treat or cure COVID-19 — online or in stores. At this time, there also are no FDA-authorized home test kits for the coronavirus. Visit the FDA to learn more.
- 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 of the stimulus package 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 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).
- 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.
How Resolve can help
In these uncertain times, we understand how confusing and stressful it can be to deal with any kind of debt. You may find this guide for dealing with personal debt during a crisis helpful. If you have questions or want advice on how to proceed, we’re here for you. Email us at [email protected]. Or just send us a message.