COVID-19 Related Scams
As the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues to impact the United States, scammers have seized the opportunity to prey on consumers. Scammers are pros at taking advantage of your fears and seek not only to make a profit through exploiting public health issues, but through spreading misinformation and creating confusion. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and the United States Postal Service (USPS) have identified the following types of COVID-19 related scams and what you can do to keep scammers at bay:
- Undelivered goods - Online sellers or mobile app developers claim they have highly desired consumer products, like cleaning, household, and health and medical supplies. You place an order or through a mobile app, but never receive it. 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, app, or company’s name, phone number and email address, plus words like “review,” “complaint” or “scam.” If everything checks out, pay by your bank credit card and keep a record of your transaction. If you experience any fraudulent transactions, contact us at 406.655.5112 for assistance.
- Fake charities - When major events happen, you might be looking for ways to help. Scammers use these events to take advantage of your generosity. Some scammers use names that sound a lot like the names of real charities. A charity scam is when a thief poses as a real charity or makes up the name of a charity to that sounds real to get your money. 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? - Be careful about any charity calling you to ask for donations. Use these organizations to help you research charities or visit the website of the organization directly or your choice to ensure money is going to the right place. When you give, pay safely by using your bank credit card — never by gift card or wire transfer. Also, be wary if you receive a follow-up call regarding a donation pledge that you don’t remember making as it could be a scam. If you experience any fraudulent transactions, contact us at 406.655.5112 for assistance.
- Person-in-need scams - Scammers could use the circumstances of COVID-19 to pose as a grandchild, relative or friend who claims to be ill, stranded in another state or foreign country, or otherwise in trouble, and ask you to send money. The scammer may ask you to send cash by mail or buy gift cards. Key factors are the scammer often begs you keep it a secret and act fasts to avoid you from asking questions.
What to do? - Don’t panic! Take a deep breath and get the facts. Hang up and call your grandchild or relative or friends phone to see if the story is true. DO NOT send money unless you’re sure it’s the real person who contacted you.
- Scams targeting your Social Security benefits - While the Social Security Administration (SSA) offices are currently closed to the public due to COVID-19, SSA will not suspend or decrease social security payments or supplemental security income payment due to the current pandemic. Scammers try to mislead people to believe they need to provide personal information or pay by gift card, wire transfer, internet currency, or by mailing cash to maintain regular payments during this period.
What to do? - Realize that if you receive any communication from the SSA indicating that your benefits will suspend or decrease due to COVID-19 is a scam. These communications could be received by letter, text, email, or phone call. Report Social Security scams to the SSA Inspector General online at oig.ssa.gov.
- Fake emails, texts, and phishing - For these types of scams, scammers use fake emails and texts. The scammers try to get you to share valuable personal information like account numbers, Social Security numbers, or your login IDs and passwords. Your information is used to steal your money, your identity, or both. Scammers also utilize phishing emails to get access to your computer or network by embedded links. By clicking on the link, ransomware or other programs can be installed and will lock you out of your data/computer. Often scammers use familiar company names or pretend to be someone you know. Other scammers have used real information to infect computers with 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. Watch for spelling and grammatical errors. If an email includes spelling, punctuation, and/or grammar errors, it’s likely a sign you’ve received a phishing email. Also, look for generic greetings as phishing emails are unlikely to use your name. Greetings like “Dear sir or madam” signal an email is may not be legitimate. Lastly, avoid emails that insist you act now. Phishing emails often try to create a sense of urgency or demand immediate action. Delete any message you believe may be a phishing attempt.
- Robocalls - Scammers are using illegal robocalls to pitch everything from scam coronavirus treatments to work-at-home schemes. You may also receive calls from the same number several times a day.
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. Or simply, do not answer a call from an unknown phone number. Also, if you continue to receive calls from the same number, block the number if your mobile device has the option.
- 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 COVID-19, visit What the U.S. Government is Doing. There you’ll find links to federal, state and local government agencies.
- Scams offering COVID-19 vaccine, cure, air filters, testing - The FTC has warned about an increasing number of scams related to vaccines, test kits, cures or treatments, and air filter systems designed to remove COVID-19 from the air in your home.
What to do? - Realize that currently there is no vaccine or cure for the COVID-19 virus. Testing is only available through your local and state government's or doctor’s offices. COVID-19 tests are not delivered to your home. If you receive a phone call, email, text message, or letter with claims to sell you any of these items it’s a scam. Hang up.
- Coronavirus relief check scams - Scammers will be trying to target you to provide personal information to get access to your stimulus money from the government.
What to do? - View our article regarding how to protect your coronavirus relief check that provides resources help deter you from falling into the scammers trap.
- Investment scams - The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) urged investors to be wary of COVID-19-related investment scams, such as promotions that falsely claim that the products or services of publicly traded companies can prevent, detect or cure COVID-19.
What to do? - Be cautious of “investment opportunities” tied to COVID-19, especially those based on claims that a small company’s products or services can help stop the virus. If you decide to invest, carefully research the investment beforehand. For information on how to avoid investment fraud, visit the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) website.
- ATM skimmers and Point-of-Sale (POS) devices at merchants - Fraudsters will attach a skimmer to ATMs to try and collect your card information. Customers should always inspect any ATM they use and ensure there are no skimmers attached to the card reader. If you believe an ATM is at risk, don’t use the machine and contact your bank immediately to further investigate. Additionally, merchant terminals are also at risk to have their information compromised. We recommend you use your digital wallet (Apple PayTM, Samsung Pay and Google Pay) when paying for items at merchants and online. Digital wallets use an encrypted token instead of your actual card number to further prevent fraud.
What to do? - We've compiled a list of measures you can take to spot and avoid different skimming devices. Spotting a skimming device before falling victim to it can save you time and money.
The best defense is to say NO if anyone contacts you and asks for any personally identifiable information by phone, in person, by text message, or email. Help stop fraud and report scams to ftc.gov/complaint and contact your local authorities.
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COVID-19 Communication Center
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COVID-19 Communication Center