COVID-19 Fraud & Scams

Important tips on how to protect yourself from COVID-19 related scams and fraud.

In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, your health and safety are our top priority. We know there will be fraudsters and criminals seeking to exploit this crisis for their profit. We have heard reports of scammers using email phishing schemes claiming to be from legitimate health organizations, advertising counterfeit virus test kits and fraudulently seeking donations for illegitimate or non-existent charitable organizations, all in an effort to exploit people’s anxiety and uncertainty for financial gain.

Please don’t fall victim to these frauds and scams! If you notice these scams being attempted or if you fall victim to these frauds, please report them to:

The FBI at: https://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx or (412) 432-4000

OR

The Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov/complaint

For continuing information on the COVID-19 pandemic and the federal response, please visit https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html

Avoid Coronavirus Scams

Scammers are taking advantage of fears surrounding coronavirus. They are setting up websites to sell bogus products and using fake emails, texts, and social media posts as a ruse to take your money and steal your personal information. These emails and posts may promote awareness, prevention tips and fake information about cases of COVID-19 in your neighborhood. Additionally, they may ask you to donate to victims, offer advice on unproven treatments or contain malicious email attachments. Some examples of COVID-19 scams include:

  • Treatment scams: Scammers are selling fake cures, vaccines and advice on unproven treatments for COVID-19.
  • Supply scams: Scammers are creating fake shops, websites, social media accounts, and email addresses claiming to sell medical supplies (such as surgical masks). When consumers attempt to purchase supplies through these channels, fraudsters pocket the money and never provide the promised supplies.
  • Provider scams: Scammers are contacting people by phone and email pretending to be doctors or hospitals that have are treating a friend or relative for COVID-19, demanding payment for that treatment.
  • Charity scams: Scammers are soliciting donations for individuals, groups, and areas affected by COVID-19. 
  • Phishing scams: Scammers are posing as national and global health authorities, including the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), sending phishing emails designed to trick recipients into downloading malware or into providing personal identifying and financial information.
  • App scams: Scammers are creating and manipulating mobile apps designed to track the spread of COVID-19, inserting malware that will compromise users’ devices and personal information. 
  • Investment scams: Scammers are offering online promotions on various platforms including social media, claiming that the products or services of publicly traded companies can prevent, detect, or cure COVID-19, and that the stock of these companies will dramatically increase in value as a result. These promotions are often styled as “research reports,” making predictions of a specific “target price,” and relate to microcap stocks, or low-priced stocks issued by the smallest of companies with limited publicly available information.
  • Rental assistance scams. With many people having trouble paying their bills due to COVID, federal rental assistance is being rolled out to communities across the country and scammers are actively using this opportunity to prey on consumers in need, by pretending to be someone they’re not. Remember that a federal government agency will not ask you for personal or financial information to process your rental assistance application. If you receive an email, text, call, or social media message from someone claiming to be the federal government, chances are it’s a scam.

We urge everyone, especially those most at risk of serious illness, to avoid these and similar scams by taking the following steps:

  • Independently verify the identity of any company, charity, or individual that contacts you regarding COVID-19.
  • Check the websites and email addresses of individuals or companies offering information, products, or services related to COVID-19. Be aware that scammers often employ addresses that differ only slightly from those belonging to the entities they are impersonating. For example, they might use “cdc.com” or “cdc.org” instead of “cdc.gov.” 
  • Be wary of unsolicited emails offering information, supplies, or treatment for COVID-19 or requesting your personal information for medical purposes. Legitimate health authorities will not contact the general public this way.
  • Do not click on links or open email attachments from unknown or unverified sources. Doing so could download a virus onto your computer or device. 
  • Make sure the anti-malware and anti-virus software on your computer is operating and up to date.
  • Ignore offers for a COVID-19 vaccine, cure, or treatment. Remember – if there is a medical breakthrough, the first time you hear about it won’t be through an email, online ad, or unsolicited sales pitch.
  • Check online reviews of any company offering COVID-19 products or supplies. Avoid companies whose customers have complained about not receiving items.
  • Research any charities or crowdfunding sites soliciting donations in connection with COVID-19 before giving. Remember – an organization may not be legitimate even if it uses words like “CDC” or “government” in its name or if it has reputable-looking seals or logos on its materials. For online resources on donating wisely, visit the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website. 
  • Be wary of any business, charity, or individual requesting payments or donations in cash, gift card, via wire transfer, or through the mail. Don’t send money through any of these channels.
  • Be cautious of “investment opportunities” tied to COVID-19, especially those based on claims that a small company’s products or services can help stop the virus. If you decide to invest, carefully research the investment beforehand. For information on how to avoid investment fraud, visit the S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) website.
  • For the most up-to-date information on COVID-19, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) websites.

If anyone believes they have been the victim of a COVID-19 fraud scheme, please contact the U.S. Attorney’s Office or your state or local authorities.

Scammers are Targeting Family of COVID-19 Victims

Government imposters may have hit a new low with a scheme that targets the grieving survivors of people who died of COVID-19 by offering them help paying for their loved one’s funeral expenses.

A real government relief program will pay up to $9,000 for funeral expenses that people have paid since January 20, 2020 for loved ones who died of COVID-19. Survivors can apply for benefits by contacting the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at (844) 684-6333. The number is toll-free and multi-lingual services are available.

The program is open to American citizens, nationals of U.S. territories, and non-citizens legally admitted to the United States, regardless of income. If you apply, you’ll need to show documents including receipts for your expenses and a death certificate that says the death happened in the United States or its territories and was likely caused by COVID-19.

The program just began in April, but even before it started, FEMA said it had reports of scammers contacting people and “offering” to register them for assistance.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • FEMA will not contact you until you have called FEMA or have applied for assistance. Anyone who contacts you out of the blue and claims to be a federal employee or from FEMA is a scammer.
  • The government won’t ask you to pay anything to get this financial help. Anyone who does is a scammer.
  • The government won’t call, text, email, or contact you on social media and ask for your Social Security, bank account, or credit card number. Anyone who does is a scammer.
  • Don’t give your own or your deceased loved one’s personal or financial information to anyone who contacts you out of the blue. Anyone who does that and asks for that information is a scammer.

FEMA’s Funeral Assistance FAQs have information about the documents you need to apply for funeral expenses. The FAQs also tell you what to do if the death certificate didn’t identify COVID-19 as the likely cause of death, as sometimes happened early in the pandemic.

If you doubt a caller claiming to be from FEMA is telling the truth, hang up and report it to the FEMA Helpline at (800) 621-3362 or the National Center for Fraud Hotline at (866)-720-5721. You can also report it at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.