COVID-19 Fraud and Scams
Federal and local law enforcement agencies across the country are warning the public about coronavirus and COVID-19 scams. Criminals are tricking people into giving personal information and/or money with false promises like COVID-19 cures and coronavirus testing kits.
Below are some tips from L.A. Care, the Office of Inspector General at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the U.S. Department of Justice.
Please be careful and be aware of new COVID-19 scams.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the National Association of Attorneys General are alerting the public about COVID-19 vaccine scams, offering tips on how to recognize and avoid them. While we wait for a vaccine timeline and more information, there’s no doubt scammers will be scheming. They may contact you with a promise of getting you a COVID-19 vaccine. But they are just trying to steal your money, financial or personal information.
What do you need to know to avoid a vaccine-related scam? Here are the facts:
- You can’t pay to put your name on a list to get the vaccine.
- You can’t pay to get early access to the vaccine.
- No one from a vaccine distribution site or health care payer, like a private insurance company, will call you asking for your Social Security number or your credit card or bank account information to sign you up to get the vaccine.
- Also be cautious of providers offering other products, treatments, or medicines to prevent the virus. Check with your health care provider before paying for or receiving any COVID-19-related treatment.
- As volunteers go door-to-door to inform communities across the country about COVID-19 vaccinations, be sure to protect yourself from criminals who are seeking to commit fraud. Do not provide personal, medical, or financial details to anyone in exchange for vaccination information, and obtain vaccinations from trusted providers.
- Offers to purchase COVID-19 vaccination cards are scams. Valid proof of COVID-19 vaccination can be provided to individuals only by legitimate providers administering vaccinations.
- Do not give your personal, medical or financial information to anyone claiming to offer money or gifts in exchange for your participation in a COVID-19 vaccination survey.
- Be aware of scammers pretending to be COVID-19 contact tracers. Legitimate contact tracers will never ask for your Medicare number, financial information, or attempt to set up a COVID-19 test for you and collect payment information for the test.
If you get a call, text, email — or even someone knocking on your door — claiming they can get you early access to the vaccine, STOP. That’s a scam.
Don’t pay for a promise of vaccine access or share personal information.
Instead, report the scam to the FTC or file a complaint with your state or territory attorney general through the consumer website of the National Association of Attorneys General.
Read the full FTC Consumer Information Blog post, "COVID-19 vaccines are in the pipeline. Scammers won’t be far behind."
Contact Tracing Scam
Contact tracers work for state and county health departments to try to track anyone who may have been exposed to COVID-19. They may try to get in touch with you, and are an important part of our road to recovery.
But some scammers pretend to be contact tracers to steal your identity, your money — or both. Luckily, there are ways to tell the difference between a real contact tracer and a scammer.
A contact tracer might get in touch with you to discuss results of a test you know you took. A contact tracer may also reach out to you because you’ve been in contact with someone who tested positive.
These legitimate contact tracers may call, email, text, or visit your home to collect information. The information you provide to a contact tracer is confidential. They may ask you for:
- your name and address
- health information
- the names of places and people you have visited
But scammers will ask you to do more. Here are some things to do to protect yourself from fake contact tracers.
- Don’t pay a contact tracer. Anyone who says you need to pay is a scammer, plain and simple.
- Don’t give your Social Security number or financial information. There’s no reason for a real contact tracer to need your Social Security number, bank account, or credit card number.
- Don’t share your immigration status. Legit contact tracers don’t need — and won’t ask for — this information.
- Don’t open links or download anything sent from a contact tracer. Real tracers will only send you texts or emails that say they’ll be calling you — not ask you to click or download anything.
What should you do if you think you’re dealing with a fake contact tracer? Hang up, close the door, or don’t respond to, click on, or download anything that may be in an email or text. Help stop scammers by reporting fraud to local law enforcement and on the FTC's Report Fraud website.
For more information, go to the FTC's Advice for Consumers on COVID-19 fraud. You can also view the FTC's Contract Tracing: 5 Things to Know Factsheet.
Learn more about California Connected, our state’s contact tracing program.
Source: Federal Trade Commission, Consumer Information Blog
Fake Cures and Treatment
There are individuals and businesses selling fake cures for COVID-19 online. Scammers are also targeting seniors with door-to-door visits. The scammer will ask for a Medicare or Medicaid number with the promise of providing a coronavirus testing kit.
- Ignore offers from anyone selling products that claim to prevent, treat, diagnose or cure COVID-19.
- Ignore offers or advertisements for COVID-19 testing or treatments on social media sites.
- Be cautious with your Medicare, Medicaid, or health plan member identification number.
Remember, if a vaccine or successful treatment becomes available, you won’t hear about it the first time through an email, online ad, a spam call or unsolicited sales pitch.
Counterfeit Masks and Testing Kits
Be aware that there are counterfeit products related to COVID-19. This includes coronavirus testing kits, as well as hand sanitizers, disinfecting wipes and other supplies.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is also being counterfeited. You’ve heard about this equipment many times on the news. They include the N95 respirator masks, goggles, full face shields, protective gowns and gloves that hospitals desperately need.
Be careful! Scammers are selling fake and unauthorized at-home COVID-19 test kits in exchange for your personal or medical information. Make sure to purchase FDA approved COVID-19 test kits from legitimate providers.
Criminals are calling victims pretending to be clinic or hospital officials. They will make up stories about one of your relatives falling sick with COVID-19. The scammers then request payment for their medical treatment, or may ask for additional personal information.
Scammers are also using robo-calls. These robo-calls use fear and lies about the coronavirus to make you buy fake health insurance. They may also ask for your personal information in order to get a free coronavirus test kit. This is all fraud to get your private information for use in other schemes.
Watch out for fake emails claiming to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or other government agencies. These fake emails offer information, products, or services related to COVID-19. The scammers want you to tap links to malicious websites that will infect and lock your device. Then they might ask for payment to unlock your device.
- Look carefully at the website addresses and email addresses in these emails. Scammers often use addresses that are only a little bit different from the real thing. For example, they might use “cdc.com” or “cdc.org” instead of “cdc.gov.”
- Do not open emails asking you to verify your personal information in order to receive an economic stimulus check from the government. This is another scam.
As we try to help each other, criminals are trying to use our goodwill by asking for donations for fake charities.
Research any charities or crowdfunding sites that ask for donations in connection with COVID-19. An organization may not be legit even if it uses words like “CDC” or “government” in its name. The scammers may even copy logos from other real companies, or create fake ones that look very professional.
- Before donating, do your own research the identity of any company, charity, or individual that contacts you regarding COVID-19.
- Be careful with 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.
For online resources on donating wisely, visit the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website.
Make Internet Security a Habit
- Don't click on links or open email attachments from someone you don't know or an unverified source. Doing so could download a virus onto your computer or device. If an email is from someone you know, but it feels off or suspicious, don't open it and contact that person another way.
- Make sure the anti-malware and anti-virus software on your computer is operating and up to date.
- Know who you are dealing with.
Criminals will continue to use new methods to exploit COVID-19 worldwide.
If you think you are a victim of a scam or attempted fraud involving COVID-19, you can report it without leaving your home.
The U.S. Department of Justice has a National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline. Call 1-866-720-5721 to report any fraud related to COVID-19 and the coronavirus. You can also send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For scams related to the Internet (e.g., email, websites, social media), you can also file a complaint online at the FBI Internet Complaint Center.