5 COVID-19 Scams to Avoid

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt businesses and people’s lives financially. For many, experiencing even more financial loss — because of a scam — would be devastating.

Alarmingly, the FTC has found that since the beginning of 2020, more than 18,000 Americans have lost $13.4 million total because of coronavirus fraud. To help you safeguard your money, we’ve highlighted five COVID-19-related scams:

1. Stimulus Check Scams

As Americans start to receive their stimulus checks, con artists are on the hunt to steal your money. Here’s how a stimulus check overpayment scam works: A scammer sends a fake check for more than what’s expected. You’ll be requested to keep the payment of $1,200 (individual) or $2,400 (married couple) and additional $500 (per eligible child), and pay back the rest in cash, gift cards or money transfer, which you definitely shouldn’t.

What Else You Should Know:

  • Most of the population does not have to take any action to receive their payment. The IRS automatically sends the funds to eligible taxpayers.
  • The IRS will not contact you for your personal or financial information via phone call, text, email or social media.
  • Hang up calls claiming to be from the IRS, never click on stimulus check-related links or attachments in an email or text, and ignore any letters or postcards regarding your stimulus check sent in the mail.
  • The IRS started mailing physical checks on April 24th based on earnings and the schedule will continue through the beginning of September. It’s a scam if you receive a check before you’re expected to or if you received a check but expected direct deposit.
  • Do not hand over any information so you can get your check faster. Offering a swift delivery is a scam.

For trusted information about stimulus payments, visit Economic Impact Payments at irs.gov.

2. Scammers Selling COVID-19 Products and Other Offers

Worrisome people have especially become the targets of scammers advertising coronavirus products that do not even exist, have false or misleading claims, have not been approved, or have been significantly marked up.

The FDA has issued warnings of “fraudulent products with claims to prevent, treat, mitigate, diagnose or cure COVID-19.”1 Visit Fraudulent Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Products on FDA.org to learn more. Also, be cautious about home testing kits; most have not been approved by the FDA, do not have proof that they work and are not 100% accurate.

1Current as of April 30, 2020

Reported by The New York Times, nearly 500 e-commerce sites with coronavirus/COVID-19 products were registered with Shopify. Although most sites on Shopify offering these unverified products have been shut down, people are still at risk for receiving texts or robocalls with product offers — including offers like low-priced health insurance, student loan payment plans and debt consolidation solutions.

Scam-Protection Tips:

  • Know that there are currently no treatments, vaccines or preventative products available.
  • Hang up on any calls with a pre-recorded message trying to sell you something.
  • Follow standard scam precautions: Never click on any links or attachments, reveal any personal and account information, give payment or respond to unusual emails, phone calls, texts and social media messages.
  • Be suspicious of communication regarding the virus coming from a pharmacy.

3. Airbnb Fraud Scam

While we’re monitoring our health and finances, scammers are using this global health and financial crisis as their chance to prey on people’s emotions and financial situation. Scammers count on you to act fast out of fear, and they’ve targeted credit union members by sending a phony text warning that there’s been a suspicious fraudulent charge from Airbnb on their account.

If you receive a text and respond that you did not authorize the transaction, you will receive another text and then a phone call asking you to confirm the fraudulent transaction. Once you confirm, you’ll be asked for your PIN number, so they can attempt to withdraw funds from an ATM.

How to Spot this Scam:

  • Any communication regarding a fraudulent Airbnb transaction of $670.63 is a scam.
  • The phone call will come from a Desert Financial phone number: 1 (800) 456-9171 as a tactic to establish trust.
  • The scammer will try to trick you by having your credit card number on hand.
  • If you’re asked for your PIN number (and other personal/financial information) through text, a phone call or email, you’re being conned.

If you suspect you’ve been a victim of fraud, please contact us immediately. Make sure to call your credit card issuer to cancel and replace your card as well.

4. Impersonating Government Agencies and Public Health Organizations

The FCC has issued warnings of scammers claiming to be a representative from an agency health organization.

Here’s what to watch out for:

  • Texts sent by the “FCC Financial Care Center” offering COVID-19 relief in a high amount like $30,000
  • Texts disguised as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services mandating that you take an online COVID-19 test by clicking on a link
  • Texts and phone calls pretending to be the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or charity organization

Be wary of any type of communication purporting to be from a government agency, public health organization or charity asking for personal information, financial details and/or money. Also be aware of monetary relief offers.

5. Erroneous Work-From-Home Opportunities

The number of people who have filed for unemployment during the COVID-19 pandemic has been unprecedented and the numbers are predicted to continue rising. With so much job loss and financial strain, scammers are aggressively reaching out to people with enticing, too-good-to-be-true job offers.

The Don’ts — Do not:

  • Provide personal information requested upfront and immediately.
  • Give your account bank account information in advance for direct deposit.
  • Pay any unusual fees for training and equipment.

This isn’t meant to discourage people from searching for jobs right now. Research the company and don’t hesitate to call the number on the company website to verify the opening. If you’re a job seeker, Flexjobs’ “12 Common Job Search Scams and How to Protect Yourself” is worth a read.

For more scam tips, check out our Fraud Prevention Cheat Sheet and visit DesertFinancial.com/Security. To report fraud to Desert Financial, visit our Reporting Fraud page.

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The material presented here is for educational purposes only, and is not intended to be used as financial, investment, or legal advice.