As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads, so does uncertainty and fear: two elements that con artists thrive on. The BBB recommends consumers be especially alert to avoid falling for a scam. Below are the top six coronavirus scams along with tips to identify and avoid them.
1. Phony Cures and Fake Masks
BBB Scam Tracker has received numerous reports of people receiving emails and messages claiming that, for a price, they can buy products the government is supposedly keeping secret--ways to prevent or cure coronavirus. Medical experts are working hard to find a coronavirus vaccine, but none currently exists.
2. Economic Impact Payment (Stimulus Check) Scams
As soon as stimulus packages were approved, scammers got to work sending out fake checks and asking consumers to pay fees to get their money earlier than what the IRS has promised. These claims are false and open consumers to the risk of identity theft and outright theft of funds in their bank account.
3. Phishing Scams
Several people are now working from home and con artists have stepped up their phishing scams. They may claim to be from an official department of the employer to offer IT support or claim the company-issued computer has a virus. They may use scare tactics, stating the computer will crash if you don’t act immediately, all in an attempt to gain access to your computer remotely, or to your personal or company’s information.
4. Government Impersonation
Another common phishing scam brought on by the coronavirus pandemic is fake emails and text messages claiming the government needs you to take an “online coronavirus test” by clicking a link they provide. No such test currently exists but if you click on the link, scammers can download malware onto your computer and gain access to your sensitive personal information.
5. Employment Scams
Many people are looking for work online in the wake of coronavirus shutdowns. Fraudsters are posting phony work-from-home jobs promising remote work with good pay and no interview required. These cons often use real company names and can be very convincing.
After you are “hired,” the company may charge you upfront for “training.” You may need to provide your personal and banking information to run a credit check or set up a direct deposit. You may be “accidentally” overpaid with a fake check and asked to deposit the check and wire back the difference. Or, you are asked to buy expensive equipment and supplies to work at home.
6. Shortage Scams (Price Gouging)
Supplies such as hand sanitizer, face masks, and toilet paper are selling out in stores nationwide. Scammers take advantage of this situation and stockpile items in high demand. Then, they seek out potential clients, online and in-person, and sell the products at extremely high prices. Price gouging is illegal and high demands for products can lead to con artists selling products that are used, defective, or otherwise mishandled. In some cases, scammers will con people out of their money by accepting payments for products that don’t exist.
This has been an issue with face masks. Masks are sold out in most local stores and major online sellers. Instead, consumers are turning to unfamiliar online shops. Unfortunately, phony sellers abound. These scam online retailers take shoppers’ money – as well as personal information – and never deliver the masks.