COVID-19 Scams: Protect Yourself from Fraudsters

older man uses a cell phone in front of a computer screen

The Seattle-King County Advisory Council on Aging & Disability Services wants to be sure that residents do not fall for coronavirus (COVID-19) scams. Fraudsters want your money. Following are a few examples:

  • Sale of vaccines, medicine, and at-home test kits: As of April 24, there are no FDA-approved products to prevent or treat COVID-19. Yet, scammers have been offering to sell fake or unapproved vaccines, treatments, and cures for COVID-19. On April 21, the FDA authorized LabCorp to sell the first diagnostic test with an at-home sample collection option for COVID-19. Prior to that date and probably continuing today, fraudsters and others have been marketing unauthorized kits for at-home COVID-19 testing. While tests, medicines, and vaccines are in development, use extreme caution in order to protect your health, finances, and personal information. Your best sources of up-to-date, accurate information are Public Health—Seattle & King County and the Washington State COVID-19 website (call toll-free 1-800-525-0127), as well as your regular health care provider.
  • Fake test sites: The FBI is investigating fly-by-night COVID-19 test sites. If you have been exposed to COVID-19 and are exhibiting symptoms, call your health care provider and trust them to give you accurate instructions about testing.
  • Grandparents scam: This is a long-time scheme in which a fraudster phones a grandparent, pretends to be his/her grandchild, and demands immediate funds so he/she can secure needed treatment for COVID-19, to return to the United States, or to get out of jail.
  • Sale of high-demand supplies: The sale of in-demand coronavirus supplies (e.g., masks, respirators) at exorbitant prices is illegal. What’s more, these scammers ask for advance payment and will likely fail to deliver the items. Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson recommends See/Snap/Send—when you see price gauging, snap a photo or screen shot, and send the image with a complaint to his office. For more information, click here. To learn more about COVID-19 fraud, hoarding, and price-gouging, click here.
  • Stimulus payment scams: Scammers are utilizing phone calls, e-mails, and texts with false information about stimulus payments (economic impact payments) from the federal government. The scammers want your money and will try to obtain personal information such as your Social Security and/or bank account number. To learn who does not need to take any action to receive the economic impact payment and who does need to fill out a form, visit the IRS webpage for non-filers. Most eligible persons will automatically receive payments but some who are not required to file an IRS tax return will need to fill out a form. Instructions are provided. The IRS emphasizes that they will not call, text, e-mail, or contact you on social media asking for personal or bank account information—even related to the economic impact payments.
  • Charitable scams: The Washington State Attorney General and Secretary of State have warned donors to be wary of COVID-19 charity scams. To learn more, click here.

For more examples of scams, visit the CDC’s COVID-19-Related Phone Scams and Phishing Attacks webpage, the Federal Trade Commission’s coronavirus scams webpage, and AARP’s Coronavirus Scams Spread as Fraudsters Follow the Headlines.

Protecting yourself from scams

AARP Fraus Watch Network logo

If you have a question about frauds and scams, the AARP Fraud Watch Network call center (toll-free 877-908-3360) is available Monday–Friday, 4 a.m.–8 p.m. Pacific Time.

Scammers are creative so we need to be ever-vigilent:

  • If you receive a “robo call” (a phone call that uses a pre-recorded message), hang up immediately. Don’t press any buttons other than to hang up.
  • Do not trust caller ID. Scam calls may not come from the phone number shown on your phone. Even international calls can appear to have a local number (even your own).
  • To protect your computer from viruses, don’t open e-mail from people and sources you don’t know and definitely don’t click on links from people or sources you don’t know. Be aware that e-mail can appear to be sent from an organization you trust even if sent from another organization. This is particularly true for e-mail that appears to be from a large government agency like the CDC or WHO.
  • Do not respond to questions or give out personal information to strangers, such as bank account numbers, Social Security or Medicare numbers, or your mother’s maiden name.
  • If you receive a call from an organization you already know and the caller asks for money or personal information, politely decline. If you wish to donate, buy a product, or give the information requested, explain that you will contact the organization independently. Do not accept contact information given by the caller. Look up the organization’s phone number or e-mail address online. Contact the organization, verify that the caller was authentic and what was stated was true.

Sadly, COVID-19 is only one type of fraud that takes advantage of older people. For more information, visit the Washington State Attorney General’s senior fraud webpage. Be vigilant, take care, and stay healthy.

Contributor Diana Thompson serves on the Seattle-King County Advisory Council on Aging & Disability Services, the Bellevue Network on Aging, and the Hearing Loss Association—Washington.

This article originally appeared in the May 2020 issue of AgeWise King County