U.S. Attorney Trent Shores cautions the public to be aware of fraud schemes seeking to exploit the evolving COVID-19 public health crisis.
“The U.S. Attorney’s Office is working with federal, tribal, state and local law enforcement partners to ensure mission critical operations continue and that public safety is guarded,” Shores said. “Unfortunately, as our community takes steps to slow the spread of COVID-19, there are fraudsters who would seek to exploit fear and anxiety during this public health crisis.”
Scammers already have devised numerous methods for defrauding people in connection with COVID-19, he said. They are setting up websites, contacting people by phone and email, and posting disinformation on social media platforms. Some examples of scams linked to COVID-19 include:
• Treatment scams: Scammers are offering to sell fake cures, vaccines and advice on unproven treatments for COVID-19.
• Supply scams: Scammers are creating fake shops, websites, social media accounts and email addresses claiming to sell medical supplies currently in high demand, such as surgical masks. When consumers attempt to purchase supplies through these channels, fraudsters pocket the money and never provide the promised supplies.
• Provider scams: Scammers are contacting people by phone and email, pretending to be doctors and hospitals that have treated a friend or relative for COVID-19, and demanding payment for that treatment.
• Charity scams: Scammers are soliciting donations for individuals, groups and areas affected by COVID-19.
• Phishing scams: Scammers posing as national and global health authorities, including World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are sending phishing emails designed to trick recipients into downloading malware or providing personal identifying and financial information.
• App scams: Scammers are creating and manipulating mobile apps designed to track the spread of COVID-19 to insert malware that will compromise users’ devices and personal information.
• Investment scams: Scammers are offering online promotions on various platforms, including social media, claiming that the products or services of publicly traded companies can prevent, detect or cure COVID-19, and that the stock of these companies will dramatically increase in value as a result. These promotions are often styled as “research reports,” make predictions of a specific “target price.”
• Bank/FDIC scams: Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation has reported an uptick in fraudulent calls, text messages, letters and emails from scammers pretending to be FDIC employees.
The scammers falsely claim that banks are limiting access to deposits or that there are security issues with bank deposits. The scammers, along with trying to create distrust, also are after bank account and other personal information. The FDIC does not send unsolicited correspondence asking for money or sensitive personal information. It never will contact people asking for personal details, such as bank account information, credit and debit card numbers, Social Security numbers, or passwords.
The public can take the following steps to help protect themselves against these scams:
• Independently verify the identity of any company, charity, or individual that contacts you regarding COVID-19.
• Check the websites and email addresses offering information, products or services related to COVID-19. Be aware that scammers often employ addresses that differ only slightly from those belonging to the entities they are impersonating. For example, they might use “cdc.com” or “cdc.org” instead of “cdc.gov.”
• Be wary of unsolicited emails offering information, supplies or treatment for COVID-19 or requesting your personal information for medical purposes. Legitimate health authorities will not contact the general public this way.
• Do not click on links or open email attachments from unknown or unverified sources. Doing so could download a virus onto your computer or device.
• Make sure the anti-malware and anti-virus software on your computer is operating and up to date.
• Ignore social media and email offers for a COVID-19 vaccine, cure or treatment. Remember, if there is a medical breakthrough, you won’t hear about it for the first time through an email, online ad or unsolicited sales pitch.
• Check online reviews of any company offering COVID-19 products or supplies. Avoid companies whose customers have complained about not receiving items.
• Research any charities or crowdfunding sites soliciting donations in connection with COVID-19 before giving. Remember, an organization may not be legitimate even if it uses words like “CDC” or “government” in its name or has reputable looking seals or logos on its materials. For online resources on donating wisely, visit the Federal Trade Commission website.
• Be wary of any business, charity or individual requesting payments or donations in cash, by wire transfer, gift card or through the mail. Don’t send money through any of these channels.
• 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.
For the most up-to-date information on COVID-19, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization websites.
If anyone believes they have been the victim of a COVID-19 fraud scheme, they are encouraged to contact federal, state and local authorities.
Scams also can be reported to the FBI at ic3.gov.