Individuals, Beware of Coronavirus Scams
Like many, I have retreated to my home and isolated myself with my immediate family in keeping with social distancing recommendations to slow the spread of COVID-19. I’ve found that there are a number of positive consequences of social distancing – eating more home-cooked meals, spending more time with family, catching up on movies or reading, and enjoying an outdoor office in the spring. On the other hand, social isolation, the influence of social media, and 24-hour news coverage have created space for anxieties over the COVID-19 pandemic to grow, and some are taking advantage of the global fear and panic prompted by the pandemic to target those who are vulnerable or uninformed.
Scammers are capitalizing on the widespread anxiety to steal money and personal information in a number of ways. Some examples are:
- Ads for fake COVID-19 tests, unapproved treatments, or vaccine kits;
- Door-to-door visits by people claiming to be from the health department or Center for Disease Control (CDC), who may request information or try to force themselves inside your home;
- “Technicians” swabbing for fake COVID-19 tests and charging a fee;
- Offers to send free COVID-19 care packages if personal information is provided;
- Emails or phone calls claiming to be from the World Health Organization (WHO) requesting information or money;
- Malicious websites or apps that appear to share COVID-19-related information to gain access to your devices and lock them until payment is received; and
- Soliciting donations for illegitimate charities.
How do you protect yourself from fraud related to COVID-19?
- Ignore offers or advertisements for COVID-19 testing or treatments on websites and social media sites. Any requests for COVID-19 testing or treatment should be made to a physician or other trusted health care provider who has assessed your condition.
- Be suspicious of unexpected calls or visitors offering COVID-19 tests or supplies or requesting personal information. Independently verify the identity of any company, charity, or individual contacting you.
- Be careful when clicking links purporting to provide information about COVID-19. Don’t open attachments or click links in emails from senders you don’t recognize.
- Be wary of unsolicited emails and verify web addresses offering information, supplies, or treatment, or requesting personal information for medical purposes. Manually type web addresses into your browser, and check for misspellings and wrong domains in links, like when a website that should end with .gov ends with .com instead.
- Update the anti-malware and anti-virus software on your computer.
- Don’t provide your username, password, date of birth, Social Security number, financial data, or other personal information in response to an email or call. If your personal information is compromised, it may be used in other fraudulent schemes.
- Do your own research before donating to charitable or crowdfunding campaigns.
The climate of fear surrounding the spread of COVID-19 has created ample opportunities for the unscrupulous to take advantage in ways that not only financially exploit the vulnerable and unwary but could also endanger their health. Don’t let your guard down and become a victim of a fraudulent scheme.
The Department of Justice recommends reporting suspected fraud to the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) hotline (1-866-720-5721) or by e-mailing the NCDF at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you or your loved ones have questions regarding coronavirus scams or other matters related to the COVID-19 outbreak, please contact me, Rebecca Miller, or a member of our Chambliss estate planning team.
The material in this publication was created as of the date set forth above and is based on laws, court decisions, administrative rulings, and congressional materials that existed at that time, and should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinions on specific facts. In some cases, the underlying legal information is changing quickly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The information in this publication is not intended to create, and the transmission and receipt of it does not constitute, a lawyer-client relationship. Please contact your legal counsel for advice regarding specific situations.