Incidents of scammers looking to exploit the financial and emotional stress and anxiety associated with the COVID-19 pandemic are on the rise. Scams range from product counterfeits to investment frauds, and expose victims to serious financial loss, identity theft, and a damaged credit rating.
Examples of COVID-19 Related Scams and Where to Report
In-Demand Products and Bogus Treatments or Cures
Because of the high-demand for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as full-face shields, masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer, scammers have flooded the market with counterfeit products. There are also products being falsely touted as COVID-19 virus treatments, tests, or cures. If you know of such counterfeit products or bogus cures, promptly file a complaint with the Office of the Attorney General at http://oag.ca.gov/report.
When sellers and/or retailers sell, rent or provide an essential consumer good and service for an extremely high price during an emergency or disaster, it is called price gouging. And it is illegal. California law generally prohibits charging a price that exceeds, by more than 10 percent, the price of an item before a state or local declaration of emergency. This law applies to those who sell food, emergency supplies, medical supplies, building materials, and gas. The law also applies to repair or reconstruction services, emergency cleanup services, transportation, freight and storage services, hotel accommodations, and rental housing. If you know or suspect a company or individual of price gouging, immediately file a complaint with the Office of the Attorney General at http://oag.ca.gov/report.
There are reports of scammers posing as national and global health authorities, including the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and sending emails with malicious attachments or links to fraudulent websites to trick individuals into providing personal identifying and financial information. If you think you are a victim of a fraud or attempted fraud involving COVID-19, call the National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. If it is a cyber scam, file a complaint through the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center. https://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx.
Some scammers are using phone calls, text, mail, or email to solicit donations for individuals, groups, and areas affected by COVID-19. Instead of making a donation on the spot, consider going directly to a charity’s website and donating directly that way. Remember that phone scams often use spoofing techniques to falsify the information transmitted to caller ID displays to make the call appear official.If you are not familiar with the charity, you can research its legitimacy online at the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance website at https://give.org/. You can file complaints with the Federal Communications Commission about unwanted robocalls and robotexts and spoofing online at https://consumercomplaints.fcc.gov/hc/en-us.
The Securities and Exchange Commission is also warning of scams involving “investment opportunities” related to COVID-19. These scams are packaged as "research reports" biotech companies that supposedly have produced a vaccine or other product that can prevent, detect or cure COVID-19, and that the stock of these companies will dramatically increase in value as a result. When investing in any company, carefully research the opportunity, find out where the stocks trade, and watch out for high-pressure pitches. Learn more about investment frauds at https://www.sec.gov/.
The Federal Communications Commission offers the following tips to help you protect yourself from scams:
- Do not respond to calls or texts from unknown numbers, or any others that appear suspicious.
- Never share your personal or financial information via email, text messages, or over the phone.
- Be cautious if you’re being pressured to share any information or make a payment immediately.
- Scammers often spoof phone numbers to trick you into answering or responding. Remember that government agencies will never call you to ask for personal information or money.
- Do not click any links in a text message. If a friend sends you a text with a suspicious link that seems out of character, call them to make sure they weren't hacked.
- Always check on a charity (for example, by calling or looking at its actual website) before donating.