Scam Alert: Con Artists Prey on Coronavirus Fears

Senior woman at her computer with phone

From natural disasters to world disturbances, any time there is big news that worries people, con artists are quick to capitalize on our fears and concerns.

We haven't seen a more concerning current event than the COVID-19 pandemic in many years—and no sooner did the word "coronavirus" begin to appear in the headlines than fraudsters unleashed their own epidemic of schemes.

We can't immunize ourselves and our loved ones against the coronavirus yet, but we can ward off con artists with a "shot" of awareness! First, let's learn what to look out for.

Experts are raising awareness of several types of COVID-19 scams you might encounter:

  • Unscrupulous marketers selling fake products that claim to treat, diagnose or prevent the virus.
  • Callers pretending to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or health department, telling you that you've been exposed to the virus—and asking for your health insurance information or bank account number.
  • Similar calls and emails, claiming to contain information about the upcoming government stimulus checks.
  • Emails claiming to contain important information from the World Health Organization (WHO) or the CDC, with links to malicious websites that can steal your personal data or even hold your computer for ransom.
  • Phony charities or crowdfunding appeals, purporting to collect donations to fund research or to help people who are affected by the virus; instead, the money you give supports a drug addict's habit or a crook's lavish lifestyle.
  • Attempts to bill insurance companies and Medicare for nonexistent or useless tests and treatments.
  • Shady investment opportunities, taking advantage of the economic uncertainty of the times—or, claiming to be selling stock in a miracle product that they claim will skyrocket in value.
  • Phony "work from home opportunities" that take advantage of people whose job security is jeopardized.
  • Inflated prices for disinfecting wipes, toilet paper, face masks and other commodities that are, or are perceived to be, in short supply.
  • Con artists who offer to pick up groceries or prescriptions for you—only to run off with your money, never to be seen again.

Prevention is key

  • Educate yourself—knowledge is power. For example, some scammers have been advertising COVID-19 vaccines, though no such vaccine exists. Others have been marketing "tests" that don't work, even setting up phony testing centers. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns that companies are making deceptive claims about teas, essential oils and supplements, as well.
  • Alert senior loved ones about these scams, and encourage them to share the information with their friends. Older adults are often targeted by con artists, and once a senior has fallen for a scam or even talked to the caller, they are often added to a list of likely victims and targeted all the more relentlessly.
  • Don't click on email links from sources you don't know, and keep your antivirus software up to date
  • Be very suspicious of product offers that use language like "your doctor doesn't want you to know about this."
  • If you receive an unsolicited call or email, never provide your credit card number or Medicare ID number. Hang up the phone, or delete the email.
  • Regularly check your credit card, insurance and Medicare statements and report any suspicious claims and charges.

If you think you or a loved one has been victimized

The U.S. Department of Justice says to:

Source: IlluminAge Communication Partners with information from the U.S. Department of Justice, the Office of the Inspector General, and the Senior Medicare Patrol