Government officials across the country are seeing an onslaught of scams that indicate coronavirus fraud could target vulnerable individuals for years to come.
Many coronavirus scams prey on people’s fears over their personal well-being and safety as well as their loved ones. Others take aim at the federal government’s economic stimulus package, which will inject more than $2 trillion into the economy in the coming weeks and months.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission, the Internal Revenue Service, and several state attorneys general have already issued warnings to some of these scammers. Last week, the FDA warned far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and televangelist Jim Bakker and the companies they run to stop hawking fake coronavirus cures.
Reselling medical supplies and other items such as toilet paper and household disinfectants at huge markups or selling them but not providing them are another way scammers are trying to cash in on coronavirus fears stoked by shortages.
Phone calls, texts, and email scams trying to trick consumers into giving up sensitive personal and financial information (phishing) are another way scammers are hoping to cash in. One especially egregious scheme mimics hospitals or health care agencies with phone calls, emails, or other correspondence informing potential victims that a loved one has been admitted to the hospital with coronavirus. The recipient is told to give credit or debit card information over the phone to pre-pay hospital bills.
Some email scams include links that install malware on computers, allowing cyberthieves to access sensitive information and banking data.
There have also been reports of scammers posing as charities, seeking funds to buy protective gear, respirators or other medical supplies for doctors, nurses and patients or food for workers who have lost their jobs.
Many people who have lost their incomes and anxiously await a government stimulus check may receive phony offers of assistance. These scams may imitate government officials asking for banking information so they can directly deposit stimulus funds or companies that will advance government funds in exchange for a fee.
Consumers have also reported phone calls offering to sell or administer COVID-19 tests for a triple-digit fee. Many businesses say they are being contacted by impostors posing as government officials offering small business loans and grants – a scam that generally involves asking for banking data and fees.
Government and law enforcement officials are warning consumers to be extremely vigilant and cautious of offers related to coronavirus response and relief, especially if they are seeking your personal or banking information or providing suspicious links.
Coronavirus-related fraud investigations are underway in every U.S. Attorney’s Office in the country. The FTC alone has received about 17,000 complaints associated with a coronavirus scam from all 50 states.
According to CNN, the FTC was still working to shut down hoaxes stemming from the 2009 stimulus when the coronavirus complaints started flooding in. Monica Vaca, a consumer response director at the FTC, told CNN that the government will be dealing with this new wave of stimulus fraud for years to come.
“This is not the type of fraud situation that will last a short period of time — like we see with hurricanes,” she told CNN.