COVID-19 Advice for Consumers
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.
Federal Temporary Eviction Moratorium: What to Know
Last month, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a temporary order to stop evictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While the order provides relief to a large group of Americans, there are some important things to remember.
- First, the order only protects renters who meet certain requirements and who sign a form and give it to their landlord.
- Second, landlords can still charge late fees during the temporary relief period.
- Third, if you break certain terms of your lease, you may still be evicted.
- Fourth, the CDC order doesn’t apply to homeowners facing foreclosure, so contact your lender or servicer for options.; and finally,
- The CDC protections don’t apply if you live in an area that already has the same or better eviction protections, so you should check on your local housing policies.
Remember: the relief is temporary. Right now, evictions are put on pause, but only until December 31. If you’re like millions of other Americans who may not be able to afford to pay your rent in January, here are some things you should know about the eviction process:
- Your landlord can take you to court if you don’t pay. Even if you don’t have the money to pay the past-due rent, your landlord can ask a judge to force you to pay or have the right to evict you.
- If you’re facing eviction, you still have rights. The first step in most evictions is a written notice. Check with your local court system for more details about the eviction process. You also may qualify for free legal services and be able to speak to a lawyer to learn about your rights.
And here are some tips for what you can do next if you missed rent payments because of the pandemic:
- Find out more about rental assistance programs. There may be local programs that offer rental assistance and other help.
- Watch for people who say they can help you pay your rent. If you spot a scam report it to your attorney general.
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
Beware of unemployment insurance fraud
Federal authorities warn that fraudsters are using the stolen identities of U.S. citizens to open accounts and file fraudulent claims for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits, exploiting the unprecedented expansion of these benefits in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The U.S. Department of Justice and National Unemployment Insurance Fraud Task Force have created this guide to provide information and resources for individuals on how to protect themselves from UI fraud and what they can do if they suspect their identity has been exploited by criminals.
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.
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.
Federal Trade Commission Funeral Planning Advice
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us have taken on new roles in our families and communities. You may be delivering groceries, helping neighbors with yardwork, or hosting video check-ins with quarantined relatives. But if someone asked you to help plan a funeral, would you know where to start? The FTC’s information about funeral goods and services, types of funerals, and your rights can help. The FTC enforces the Funeral Rule, which makes it possible for you to compare prices and choose only the things you want or need.
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:
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. Department of Justice Warns About Fake Unemployment Benefit Websites
From the U.S. Department of Justice:
The Department of Justice has received reports that fraudsters are creating websites mimicking unemployment benefit websites, including state workforce agency (SWA) websites, for the purpose of unlawfully capturing consumers’ personal information.
To lure consumers to these fake websites, fraudsters send spam text messages and emails purporting to be from an SWA and containing a link. The fake websites are designed to trick consumers into thinking they are applying for unemployment benefits and disclosing personally identifiable information and other sensitive data. That information can then be used by fraudsters to commit identity theft.
Unless from a known and verified source, consumers should never click on links in text messages or emails claiming to be from an SWA offering the opportunity to apply for unemployment insurance benefits. Instead, anyone needing to apply for unemployment benefits should go to an official SWA website, a list of which can be found at: https://www.careeronestop.org/localhelp/unemploymentbenefits/unemployment-benefits.aspx.
Schemes that use links embedded in unsolicited text messages and emails in attempts to obtain personally identifiable information are commonly referred to as phishing schemes. Phishing messages may look like they come from government agencies, financial intuitions, shipping companies, and social media companies, among many others. Carefully examine any message purporting to be from a company and do not click on a link in an unsolicited email or text message. Remember that companies generally do not contact you to ask for your username or password. When in doubt, contact the entity purportedly sending you the message, but do not rely on any contact information in the potentially fraudulent message.
If you receive a text message or email claiming to be from an SWA and containing a link or other contact information, please report the communication to the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) by calling 866-720-5721 or using the NCDF Web Complaint Form found at: www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud.
If you believe you may have entered information into a fraudulent website, resources on how to protect your information can be found at: www.identitytheft.gov.
To learn more about identifying and protecting yourself from phishing attempts, go to: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/how-recognize-and-avoid-phishing-scams or https://www.fbi.gov/scams-and-safety/common-scams-and-crimes/spoofing-and-phishing.
Further information about the SWA-imposter scheme, and other major scams targeting American consumers, can be found at the Justice Department’s Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force website: https://www.justice.gov/civil/consumer-protection-branch/transnational-elder-fraud-strike-force.
This alert is provided by the Justice Department’s National Unemployment Insurance Fraud Task Force (NUIFTF) and the Consumer Protection Branch of the department’s Civil Division. Members of NUIFTF include: Department of Labor Office of Inspector General, U.S. Secret Service, Homeland Security Investigations, IRS-Criminal Investigation, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General, and FDIC Office of Inspector General.
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).
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
For the most up to date information about the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic visit the Centers For Disease Control Website.