Beware Coronavirus Scams and Price Gouging

Beware Coronavirus Scams and Price Gouging

Attorneys general are warning consumers to beware of scams and price gouging associated with the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Unfortunately, crises like this often bring out scam artists hoping to take advantage of people’s fears and concerns.  Attorneys general enforce consumer protection laws that prohibit scams.  Many attorneys general also enforce statutes prohibiting price gouging. Price gouging refers to sellers trying to take unfair advantage of consumers during an emergency or disaster by greatly increasing prices for essential consumer goods and services.  Laws on price gouging vary depending on where you live. To learn more about what your attorney general is doing to protect consumers during the coronavirus crisis or to report price gouging concerns, click on the map to be directed to your attorney general’s website.

See below for tips on how to avoid scams and other information from federal agencies.

How to Avoid Scams

Beware of suspicious phone calls, emails, and texts

Scammers may try to steal your money and identity by sending phony communications via phone calls, emails, and texts. If a stranger claiming to be an expert on coronavirus contacts you, ignore them. Don’t click on any link or open any attachment from an unfamiliar sender; they could download a virus onto your computer or device. Consumers should report scammers to your attorney general. For the most current medical information about the coronavirus prevention and treatment contact the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) or the World Health Organization (WHO)

Beware of fraudulent charities or solicitations

If you would like to donate to a charity focused on addressing the coronavirus, do your homework to maximize your contribution. Make sure you verify that the charity is legitimate; donate by check or credit card and not by cash, wire transfer, or gift card; and don’t be pressured into making a contribution. Visit our charities page to get more tips.

Don’t trust anyone offering vaccinations or other treatments

There is currently no vaccine for the coronavirus according to the Centers For Disease Control (CDC) and U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Consumers should ignore online offers for vaccinations, medicine, and other treatments. If you are unsure about a product, check with your doctor before you buy it. For the most current medical information about the coronavirus prevention and treatment contact the CDC

Watch out for high-priced or low-quality products

Media reports have suggested prices are increasing on products like hand sanitizer and face masks. Read health recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) when deciding whether a purchase is necessary. Research before you make a purchase, only buy from reputable companies, and don’t pay an unfair price for something you may not need. Report instances of what seem like unreasonably high prices or defective products to your attorney general. Click here to find a link to your attorney general’s online complaint portal. 

Beware of false and misleading information

Visit reputable sources like the  Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), or your state or territory’s Department of Public Health for updates on the coronavirus and its impact in your area. Beware of untrustworthy sources that might be spreading false information.

Federal Agency Consumer Alerts and Tips

Federal agencies, including the Federal Trade Commission, are sharing tips and consumer alert information about how to avoid falling for coronavirus related scams. 

FTC Warns Consumers about Contact Tracing Text Message Scams

From the Federal Trade Commission:

Contact tracers are usually hired by a state’s department of public health. They work with an infected person to get the names and phone numbers for everyone that infected person came in close contact with while possibly infectious. People who had contact with someone infected with COVID-19 may first get a text message from the health department, telling them they’ll get a call from a specific number. The tracer who calls will not ask for personal information, like a Social Security number. At the end of the call, some states ask if the contact would like to enroll in a text message program, which sends daily health and safety reminders until the 14-day quarantine ends. But tracers won’t ask you for money or information like your Social Security, bank account, or credit card number. Anyone who does is a scammer.

sample scam text message

Don’t take the bait. Clicking on the link will download software onto your device, giving scammers access to your personal and financial information. Ignore and delete these scam messages.

FTC Alerts Consumers About Nursing Homes and Assisted Living Facilities Taking Stimulus Checks From Medicaid Patients

The Federal Trade Commission has issued an alert to consumers to be on the lookout for nursing homes and assisted living facilities that are requiring residents who are on Medicaid to sign their stimulus checks over to the facilities.

In a blog post, the FTC says that states around the country have received reports of nursing homes and assisted living facilities claiming that stimulus checks count as “resources” under the rules of federal benefit programs that must be used to pay for services.

The FTC notes that this is not true, and encourages consumers to check with loved ones who receive Medicaid and live in these facilities, and to file a complaint with their state attorney general if they or a loved one have experienced this issue.

CFPB: Mortgage and housing assistance during the coronavirus national emergency

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) , and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)  are working together to help homeowners and renters during the coronavirus pandemic.

Learn more about:

U.S. Department of Transportation Issues Enforcement Notice Regarding Refund Requirements

The U.S. Department of Transportation issued an Enforcement Notice clarifying, in the context of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) public health emergency, that U.S. and foreign airlines remain obligated to provide a prompt refund to passengers for flights to, within, or from the United States when the carrier cancels the passenger’s scheduled flight or makes a significant schedule change and the passenger chooses not to accept the alternative offered by the carrier.  The obligation of airlines to provide refunds, including the ticket price and any optional fee charged for services a passenger is unable to use, does not cease when the flight disruptions are outside of the carrier’s control (e.g., a result of government restrictions).

CFPB Coronavirus-related Consumer Tip Page

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has created a coronavirus landing page. The Bureau is updating the page several times a week with financial information for consumers, including older adults, on topics that fall within the CFPB’s purview. Topics include scams, debt, what to do if you can’t pay your mortgage, online banking how to, and other relevant topics as they come up.  Visit consumerfinance.gov/coronavirus.

Latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) information about the Coronavirus pandemic

Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention webpage by clicking here.

FDIC warning about scam callers, emails and texts claiming to be from FDIC

To learn more about this Alert, click here.

FBI Expects a Rise in Scams Involving Cryptocurrency Related to the COVID-19 Pandemic

According to the FBI, fraudsters are leveraging increased fear and uncertainty during the COVID-19 pandemic to steal your money and launder it through the complex cryptocurrency ecosystem.

The FBI advises you to be on the lookout for an increase in the following cryptocurrency fraud schemes related to COVID-19 including:

Blackmail Attempts. The correspondence claims that the writer will both release embarrassing information and infect you and/or your family with coronavirus unless payment is sent to a Bitcoin wallet.

Work from Home Scams. Scammers, posing as employers, may ask you to accept a “donation” of funds into your own bank account and to deposit them into a crypto kiosk. The so-called “donation” is likely money stolen from others. Your acceptance and transfer of the stolen money is considered illegal money mule activity and potentially unlicensed money transmission.

Paying for Non-Existent Treatments or Equipment. Scammers have been known to lure customers from trusted e-commerce sites offering products that claim to prevent COVID-19 onto unrelated and unregulated messaging sites to accept payment in cryptocurrencies for products that do not actually exist.

Charity scams: Although there are legitimate charities, investment platforms, and e-commerce sites that accept payment in cryptocurrency, pressure to use a virtual currency should be considered a significant red flag.

FTC issues consumer alert about possible government check scammers

From the Federal Trade Commission:

As the Coronavirus takes a growing toll on people’s pocketbooks, there are reports that the government will soon be sending money by check or direct deposit to each of us. The details are still being worked out, but there are a few really important things to know, no matter what this looks like.

1. The government will not ask you to pay anything up front to get this money. No fees. No charges. No nothing.

2. The government will not call to ask for your Social Security number, bank account, or credit card number. Anyone who does is a scammer.

3. These reports of checks aren’t yet a reality. Anyone who tells you they can get you the money now is a scammer.

So, remember: no matter what this payment winds up being, only scammers will ask you to pay to get it. If you spot one of these scams, file a complaint with your Attorney General. Please also tell the Federal Trade Commission: www.ftc.gov/complaint. We’re doing our best to stop these scammers in their tracks, and your report will help.

FTC Data Shows Jump in Coronavirus Scams

Since the beginning of the year, the FTC has received more than 7,800 coronavirus-related reports from consumers, double what they were through mid-March. Click here for data demonstrating this increase.

FTC Tips About Avoiding Coronavirus Scams

The FTC has issued updated tips to avoid coronavirus scams and keep fraudsters at bay.

Treasury Inspector General COVID-19 Scam Reporting Form

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) today announced a new website providing information concerning IRS-related coronavirus scams. Taxpayers can visit the Coronavirus page on TIGTA’s public website to learn about scams involving the economic stimulus payments or other IRS-related coronavirus scams. In addition, taxpayers may report potential coronavirus scams to TIGTA at: tips.tigta.gov.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration 2019 (COVID-19) Frequently Asked Questions

Click here for Frequently Asked Questions related to the Coronavirus and the U.S. FDA’s responses.

U.S. FDA List of Warning Letters to Sellers of Fraudulent COVID-19 Products

U.S. FDA released an “At-a-glance” summary of its response to COVID-19. The summary includes list of warning letters to companies for selling “fraudulent” COVID-19-related products and consumer alerts related thereto.

U.S. Postal Inspection Service COVID-19-related scam alert and PSA video

From the U.S. Postal Inspection Service:

Rising concerns about the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in the rise of coronavirus-related scams as criminals seek to take advantage of the fears of the public.

Scammers seek not only to make profit through exploiting public health issues, but through spreading misinformation and creating confusion. The Inspection Service wants you to remain vigilant and equipped with knowledge and good practices to protect yourself and your family from emerging and constantly evolving scams and fraud.

Justice begins with you. Be sure to report any incidents of scams or mail fraud – especially those related to coronavirus/COVID-19, including government stimulus payments – to the Inspection Service here.

For updated information and developments about coronavirus/COVID-19, please follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). You may also get more information about how the federal government is responding to coronavirus at usa.gov.

PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT VIDEO

Health-Related Information

For the most up to date information about the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic visit the Centers For Disease Control Website.