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Use These Tips to Avoid Coronavirus Scams

By: Stephanie Mintz, CFE Fraud Prevention & BSA Analyst

Posted on 4/3/2020 3:34:01 PM

Woman in an empty café setting looking at her phone

Scammers are always looking for the perfect opportunity to take advantage of you. And during the challenging times that surround the COVID-19 pandemic, they are out in full force, attempting to capitalize on your fears and vulnerabilities.

It is important to stay vigilant right now to protect your finances and those of your loved ones. That is why we have put together this list of tips to help you avoid coronavirus scams. Follow the tips below and stay informed about the latest scams at the Federal Trade Commision's (FTC) website to protect you and your loved ones.

Tips to Avoid Coronavirus Scam Phone calls

Many scammers are calling cell phone and home phone numbers and posing as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or World Health Organization (WHO). They use this false identity to gain trust and then ask for personal information. Others might claim to be from the government and ask for your personal information with a promise to send you money. And others might claim to be your credit union or other financial institution. Do not give out your information to these callers, and follow these tips to stay protected:

Don’t Answer Calls From Unknown Numbers

The best thing you can do to avoid scam calls is to simply not answer calls from unknown numbers. If the call is urgent, the caller will likely leave a message. You can also Google the telephone number to find out if the call is a known scam. There are also apps for Android and iOS that block known spam callers such as Hiya and Robokiller.

Hang up on Robocalls

If you do answer a call, you can simply hang up and then verify the number on Google. These robocalls might ask you to press a number to be removed from a list – do not press any numbers. This often leads to more robocalls. Simply hang up if you hear a recorded message.

Visit the Federal Communication Commission's (FCC) website for information and examples of known coronavirus phone scams and robocalls.

Tips to Avoid Coronavirus Text and Email Scams

Senior woman sitting at a table with a laptop and coffee cup. She is holding her hand to her head, with a worried expression, looking at her laptop screen

Text and email scams are very dangerous because they can look legitimate. But clicking the provided links can be catastrophic because they can install harmful ransomware, which leaves your personal information vulnerable to hacking. Follow these tips to stay protected:

Never Click Links in Emails or Texts

Even if you receive an email or text that looks legitimate, the safest thing you can do is not click any provided links, unless you know with 100% certainty that it is a safe link. On your computer, you can hover your mouse over a link to check the destination. If the link has a string of cryptic numbers, looks nothing like the company’s website, or leads to a .exe file, then don’t click on it. And if you really want to visit a website, as instructed in an email or text, simply type in the address manually or search Google for the appropriate link.

Always Verify the Sender

When you get a text message or email, check to make sure the sender is legitimate, even if the name appears to be official. For example, if you receive a message from the Center for Disease Control, check the actual send address. If it doesn’t end in .gov, it’s not official.

Watch Out for Spelling and Bad Grammar

Cyber criminals are notorious for their bad spelling and improper grammar. Company emails are usually written by professional writers and are reviewed for grammar and spelling before being sent out to customers. If you see grammar and spelling mistakes in an email, be cautious.

Beware of Attachments and Threats

Unless a company representative has notified you that you’ll receive an email with an attachment, then be suspicious of any email with an attachment, and contact the company before downloading it. Also be mindful of threats. Many cyber criminals will use threats, such as closing your account, if you don’t respond to an email. Don’t fall for the bait! When in doubt, always contact the company via phone from the number listed on their official website.

Keep Your Anti-Virus Software Up to Date

You should have anti-virus and anti-malware software installed on all the computers you use to access the internet. Make sure you keep this software up to date so that new virus definitions and malware can be found if they appear.

Don’t Fall for Too-Good-to-Be-True Income Opportunities

Many people have lost their jobs or source of income during this pandemic. And scammers are looking to take advantage of them. You might stumble across posts, especially on social media, regarding work from home jobs, opportunities to wrap your car, investment opportunities, and even grants offering free money. We urge you to be extremely cautious about any opportunity that seems too good to be true right now. Do your research, and if it looks suspicious, trust your instincts.

Tips to Avoid Online Coronavirus Scams

Close up of a man’s hands and laptop. One hand is pressing a key, while the other is holding a credit card.

There are a lot of scams out there right now trying to get your money and personal information by advertising products with false claims and asking for donations. Stay vigilant during these times and always check the CDC’s coronavirus website for the most accurate information regarding treatments.

Only Buy Products From Trusted Sellers

As you’ve probably experienced, many household staples and medical supplies are low or out of stock. Some companies are claiming to have full stocks of these items for sale. Do not fall for these scams. Only purchase items from trusted sellers and websites.

Ignore all Ads for Treatments, Cures, and Vaccinations

Currently, there are no official treatments, cures, or vaccinations for COVID-19. If you see any ads, social media posts, news stories, or emails claiming to have treatments for sale, do not take the bait. All treatments, cures, and vaccinations will be regulated by the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA), and will only be available through a healthcare provider. For more information about health fraud scams, including examples, please visit the FDA’s website.

Donate Wisely

There are many people struggling financially right now, and scammers are aware that pulling your heart strings is an easy way to make money. Though we encourage donating to charities and individuals in need, be wise with your donation. Never donate via cash or gifts cards, and do not wire money to individuals seeking donations. Instead, only donate to individuals you know or organizations you trust.

General Tips to Protect Yourself Against Coronavirus Scams

Photo of a young woman sitting on a couch. She is on her cell phone and has a concerned expression

While the tips above are for specific types of scams, there are some good pieces of advice that can apply to every type of scam. If you follow all the tips above, plus the tips below, it will go a long way to protecting you and your family: 

Be Stingy With Your Personal Information

The most important thing you can do to protect yourself from scams is to keep information such as address, date of birth, usernames, passwords, and financial account information private and secured. Most of this information should only be given to organizations or institutions you’ve contacted and know you can trust. However, never give away your passwords to anyone. No legitimate organization will ever ask for your passwords.

Take Your Time

Whether you’re answering a phone call, text or email, or making a purchasing decision, always take your time. Verify all information with trusted, official sources first.

If You Suspect You’ve Fallen for a Scam, Change Your Information

If you feel as though your personal information has been compromised, change the associated usernames and passwords. If your financial accounts have been compromised, contact your credit union immediately.

Report all Scams

Whether you’ve fallen victim to a scam or have simply been made aware of one through a call, text, email, or online advertisement, there are several places where you can report the scam:

  • For COVID-19 specific scams and fraudulent activity, contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud at 866-720-5721 or via email at disaster@leo.gov
  • You can also report COVID-19 scams and fraud directly to the FBI here.
  • For internet-specific scams, use this form to report to the FBI’s Internet Crime division here
  • Phone and internet scams can be reported to the Federal Communications Center here
  • Any and all scams can also be reported to the extensive reporting feature on the Federal Trade Commission’s website here
  • Finally, if a scammer poses as an organization, you can report the scam directly to the organization. For Community First imposters, please report to us at 904.354.8537

Stay Up to Date on Coronavirus Information

There are several government websites that will provide you with up to the minute information. Bookmark these sites:

Official US Coronavirus Website

CDC Coronavirus Website

WHO Coronavirus Website

Official Website for All Federal Actions Related to Coronavirus

Florida Government Coronavirus Website

City of Jacksonville Coronavirus Website