As the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues to impact the United States, phone scammers have seized the opportunity to prey on consumers.
The FCC has received reports of scam and hoax text message campaigns and scam robocalls offering free home testing kits, promoting bogus cures, selling health insurance, and preying on virus-related fears.
A text message scam may falsely advertise a cure or an offer to be tested for coronavirus. Do not click on links in texts related to the virus, and check cdc.gov/coronavirus for the most current information.
Some text scams are impersonating government agencies. The FCC recently learned of a text scam claiming to be from the “FCC Financial Care Center” and offering $30,000 in COVID-19 relief. There is no FCC program to provide relief funds to consumers. The text is likely a phishing attempt to get banking or other personal information from victims. The BBB is also warning of a text message scam impersonating the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services informs recipients that they must take a “mandatory online COVID-19 test” using the included link.
Text message hoaxes may claim that the government will order a mandatory national two-week quarantine, or instruct you to go out and stock up on supplies. The messages can appear to be from a “next door neighbor.” The National Security Council tweeted that these are fake. FEMA is tracking rumors and reminds consumers to always check a trusted source.
Scammers are also using robocalls to target consumers during this national emergency.
For example, the World Health Organization recently issued a warning about criminals seeking to take advantage of the pandemic to steal money or sensitive personal information from consumers. It urges people to be wary of phone calls and text messages that purport to be from the WHO, or charity organizations, asking for account information or for money.
The FCC has received reports of robocalls purporting to offer free virus test kits, in an effort to collect consumers’ personal and health insurance information. One pernicious version of this scam is targeting higher risk individuals with diabetes, offering a free COVID-19 testing kit along with a free diabetic monitor. Other robocalls are marketing fake cures and asking for payment over the phone.
Opportunists are also making robocalls to offer HVAC duct cleaning as a way to “protect” your home and family from the virus.
Fraudsters are also preying on financial fears tied to the pandemic. The FCC is aware of robocall scams with COVID-19 themed work-from-home opportunities, student loan repayment plans, and debt consolidation offers. Consumers aren’t the only target. Small businesses are also getting scam calls about virus-related funding or loans and online listing verification.
Many consumers will receive checks as part of the federal government response to the coronavirus. No one will call or text you to verify your personal information or bank account details in order to “release” the funds. The Treasury Department expects most people to receive their payments via direct-deposit information that the department has on file from prior tax filings.
If you think you’ve been a victim of a coronavirus scam, contact law enforcement immediately.
The FCC offers the following tips to help you protect yourself from scams, including coronavirus 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. (Learn more about charity scams.)