COVID-19

COVID-19 In Depth

Sections on this page
  1. What Are COVID-19 Scams?
  2. Common Coronavirus Scams
  3. COVID-19 Scam Red Flags
  4. How to Beat Coronavirus Scams
  5. Fallen For a COVID-19 Scam?

The global pandemic caused by COVID-19 changed nearly everything about how the world works. Unfortunately, one of the things that stayed the same was the opportunistic scammers looking to exploit others in times of need.

In fact, since the virus first took hold in 2019, it seems the only things spreading more quickly than the coronavirus itself are COVID-19 scams.

What Are COVID-19 Scams?

COVID-19 scams is a catchall term, referring to the wide-ranging and numerous deceptions that have sprung up in the wake of the global pandemic.

Helping perpetuate this new rise of fraud are the twin issues of change and confusion which have both run rampant since the virus started spreading.

A novel disease in every way, COVID-19 has spurred any number of news reports, many with updated or altered information on what the virus is and how best to handle it. And these changing dispatches contributed to a sense of mistrust—or, at least, some misgiving—over what’s actually going on.

Meanwhile, the government rolled out a number of very real programs, touching on everything from unemployment benefits to rent moratoriums, in an attempt to help. But in their rush to respond, many details got lost and had to be hammered out in real-time. Many people missed the boat on these new opportunities, or struggled to understand the new and changing rules behind them. And at the same time, millions more people became eligible for these extended programs, with the government hardly able to keep up with the sharp increase.

Seizing on the chaos and desperation, scammers unleashed a barrage of nefarious schemes centered around the virus. In fact, in the first four months of 2020 alone, more than 18,200 reports of COVID-19 scams were filed with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), representing a loss of more than $13.4 million.

Since then, the problem of coronavirus scams has only ballooned. But, with the newness of the virus itself waning, a bit more sense can be made of the picture, with some clear patterns emerging—and the red flags to go with them.

Common Coronavirus Scams

As the coronavirus continues to develop and adapt, so too do the scammers profiting off of it.

There is any number of COVID-19 scams going on at a given time, with new schemes hatched all the time. But these are, so far, some of the most common types of coronavirus scams.

Coronavirus Survey Scams

Taking advantage of the concept of contact tracing and the general push to collect new data on the novel virus, some scammers have developed false COVID-19 surveys meant to capture sensitive personal details that can help them commit identity theft.

The surveys may seem earnest or indeed be modeled after real surveys government entities have used, but they’ll likely include more pointed personal questions, ask for sensitive medical or financial details, or offer money or gifts in exchange for taking them.

COVID-19 Vaccine Scams

Though the COVID-19 vaccine is free and now widespread in America, some scammers are still trying to peddle appointments for the shot, sell fake vials of it, or push other (unproven) antidotes, for a fee.

Vaccine cards have also been the subject of scams. Fake ones are being sold on the black market, while scammers are also collecting information from selfies people have posted of their cards, which sport some potentially useful personal information.

Government Program/Funding Coronavirus Scams

One of the most widespread and dangerous types of coronavirus scam, these schemes revolve around the raft of new legislation pushed out in the wake of the virus.

Scammers may pose as government officials, reaching out through emails, texts, phone calls, or even robocalls. They may claim to be connected to the expanded unemployment benefits, small business loan program, stimulus checks, rent moratorium, new child tax credit, or any number of other programs created in the confusing wake of the virus.

What they’re all after is as much personal information of yours as they can get their hands on – a cache that will help them commit identity theft in your name.

COVID-19 Charity Scams

Sadly, scammers aren’t above even posing as charity workers.

These types of fraud involve scammers getting in touch, on behalf of a charity helping those in need during the pandemic. They may claim to be from a famous organization or a new one created for this purpose. But any donation you make to these groups—along with any personal information you give them—will go straight to scammers’ pockets.

Coronavirus Impersonation Scams

Impersonation scams are classic plots but coronavirus has given them a whole new twist.

In these types of COIVD-19 scams, a scammer will call, pretending to be someone you know—usually a grandchild or family member in the military—pretending to be sick with the virus. They’ll ask you to send help and money, but of course, the scammer will pocket it all.

Coronavirus Investment Scams

The global pandemic has certainly pushed technology—and the need for more of it—to new heights. But some scammers are riding the coattails of that innovation, sending out emails or other messages that offer a chance to get involved in a “hot new product” or stock involving these new developments.

They’re just regular investment scams, dressed up as COVID-savvy advice.

COVID-19 Funeral Assist Scams

One of the most lurid types of coronavirus scam, these schemes revolve around a real government program: The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Funeral Assistance Program.

The actual program provides financial assistance for COVID-19-related funeral expenses. But scammers will call surviving family members, pretending to be from the office, and using that excuse to collect sensitive information on the deceased, including Social Security numbers and other financial information.

COVID-19 Scam Red Flags

The confusion, stress, grief, and fast-moving facts on the ground surrounding the pandemic make it especially difficult to tell the difference between a COVID-19 scam and a genuine call for help.

Still, there are a few red flags that may help you identify these schemes, including:

  • Calls or texts from unknown numbers.
  • Unsolicited calls, texts, or emails about coronavirus relief, surveys, vaccines, or other treatments.
  • Calls, texts, emails, or surveys that ask for sensitive financial, medical, or insurance information.
  • “Contact tracers” that ask for your Medicare number or financial information.
  • Anyone offering to set up a coronavirus test or vaccine appointment for a fee.
  • Anyone offering money or gifts in exchange for coronavirus surveys.
  • Anyone who pressures you to act fast or share personal information, especially those claiming to call from a charity or government agency.
  • Poor grammar, bad spelling, or strange turns of phrase.

Again, these new breed of scams are still changing all the time. Overall, the best bet is to remain wary, and go with your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.

How to Beat Coronavirus Scams

An abundance of caution is the biggest thing needed to beat coronavirus scams. Still, there are a few more ways you can shore up your safety in these strange times, including:

  • Never giving out sensitive information like Social Security numbers, medical ID numbers, insurance information, or financial details. Real government employees will not ask you for this information.
  • Never clicking on a link in an unsolicited text or email.
    • It’s possible for scammers to manipulate the names of links to make them look more official.
    • Hover your cursor above the link will let you see the true URL without clicking on it.
  • Not picking up calls from unknown numbers.
  • Not responding to messages left by robocalls.
  • Researching any charity before donating.
  • Examining the email address on any coronavirus-related messages. Make sure it’s from a .gov or other appropriate domain.
  • Never paying for something or giving out personal details over the phone. If you receive a suspicious call, hang up and call back on an officially-sourced customer service number.

Essentially, it’s always a good idea to keep all of your personal information as private as possible—no matter who’s asking.

Fallen For a COVID-19 Scam?

If you think you’ve fallen for a coronavirus scam, there are still some measures you can take.

Depending on the type of scam, you can—and should—contact any or all of the following agencies:

If you gave away any personal, medical, insurance, or financial information, you should also immediately take the appropriate steps to recover from identity theft, such as:

  • Freezing any accounts connected to the information in question.
  • Contacting your insurance provider or bank and credit card companies about the incident.
  • Canceling your current credit and debit cards and open new ones.
  • Changing your passwords and PINs.

Depending on the type and severity of scam, you may even consider contacting your local authorities.

Scams Relating to COVID-19

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Received a Text/Email Asking You to Validate Your COVID-19 Status? It's a Scam

Received a Text/Email Asking You to Validate Your COVID-19 Status? It's a Scam

Scammers are impersonating government departments in an attempt to steal your information in this new COVID-19 scam.

Don't Fall for This COVID Vaccine Scam: Vaccines Are Free
14 July 2021 |

Don't Fall for This COVID Vaccine Scam: Vaccines Are Free

If you're being charged for the COVID-19 vaccine, you're being scammed. The vaccine is free to all U.S. residents and you cannot buy the vaccine online.

Scams in Other Categories...
How to Identify a Fake Email from Your Bank & Protect Yourself

How to Identify a Fake Email from Your Bank & Protect Yourself

Scammers impersonate well-known banks, such as Citibank and Chase, to trick you into giving up your sensitive information—learn how to beat these scams.

The "Little Gift" is a Lie! Protect Yourself From Fake Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile Texts
15 October 2021 |

The "Little Gift" is a Lie! Protect Yourself From Fake Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile Texts

If you receive a text message from your cell phone provider containing a link to a "little gift," don't click on it—it's a scam!

Red Flags of Fake Venmo Email Scams Promising A Lot of Money

Red Flags of Fake Venmo Email Scams Promising A Lot of Money

Venmo users are noticing suspicious emails hitting their inboxes with claims of a large sum of money waiting to be transferred by a PayPal user.

Tinder Code Scam Leads to Monthly Porn Subscriptions
7 October 2021 |

Tinder Code Scam Leads to Monthly Porn Subscriptions

The Tinder safe dating scam tricks users into giving up their credit card info to verify their profiles and leads to auto-enrollment in monthly subscription-based porn sites.

Recognize Fake Bank Reps Calling to Steal Your Information
6 October 2021 |

Recognize Fake Bank Reps Calling to Steal Your Information

A call from your bank isn't always legitimate—imposters pretend to represent your bank to steal your information and money.

Vishing Scams: What They Are and How to Protect Yourself
4 October 2021 |

Vishing Scams: What They Are and How to Protect Yourself

In 2020, almost $20 billion was lost to phone scammers in the U.S. alone. With 165 million robocalls being made every day, it's hard not to be targeted.

Red Flags of Advance Fee Scams and How to Beat Them
28 September 2021 |

Red Flags of Advance Fee Scams and How to Beat Them

A promise of a large sum of money in return for a fee should raise some red flags—more often than not, it's a scam.

How the Nigerian Prince Scam Has Evolved & How to Protect Yourself

How the Nigerian Prince Scam Has Evolved & How to Protect Yourself

Arm yourself with information on how this scam works and the red flags to watch out for to protect your bank account from these thieves.

Guides Relating to COVID-19

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Fake N95 Coronavirus Masks - How to Identify This Scam
10 February 2021 |

Fake N95 Coronavirus Masks - How to Identify This Scam

Consumers have sought out the protection of N95 masks and searched online. But scammers have been selling fake products. 14+ million masks have been seized by US Customs

Guides in Other Categories...
Senior Safety: 11 Ways to Protect Against Online Elder Scams
26 October 2021

Senior Safety: 11 Ways to Protect Against Online Elder Scams

Millions of senior citizens fall victim to fraud each year. Learn how to protect yourself or a loved one against elder scams and what to do if you've been scammed.

How Much You Really Save on Black Friday: Amazon Tech Prices Compared
23 October 2021 |

How Much You Really Save on Black Friday: Amazon Tech Prices Compared

Just how good are Amazon Black Friday deals? We compare the prices of some of the most popular tech in the lead-up to and post Black Friday.

How to Report Scams in Australia
20 October 2021

How to Report Scams in Australia

With so many services available it is hard to work out what to do. We narrow it down to give you the essential information you need to report a scam and get help.

Ultimate Checklist to Protect Your Family From Scams
20 October 2021

Ultimate Checklist to Protect Your Family From Scams

With so many devices and accounts opening you up to various scams, you must protect your family from identity theft and other scams.

News Relating to COVID-19

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FBI Warns Fake COVID Vaccine Cards Could Lead to Prison Time
14 September 2021 |

FBI Warns Fake COVID Vaccine Cards Could Lead to Prison Time

Taking a chance on a fake COVID-19 vaccination card seems like an easy way to get around requirements, but think again before you land yourself in prison.

Not So Fast: That Vaccine Card Selfie May Be Scammer Gold
28 May 2021 |

Not So Fast: That Vaccine Card Selfie May Be Scammer Gold

You’ve waited in line. You’ve rolled up your sleeve. You’ve been stuck with a needle. Now it’s time to show off.

News in Other Categories...
N.J. Man Pleads Guilty to SIM Swapping Conspiracy Stealing Over $500k From Victims
5 October 2021 |

N.J. Man Pleads Guilty to SIM Swapping Conspiracy Stealing Over $500k From Victims

This case shows just why you need to be aware of SIM swapping and how to protect your cell phone number from criminals like this.

Student Loan Scammers Arrested After Stealing $6.1 Million
22 September 2021 |

Student Loan Scammers Arrested After Stealing $6.1 Million

After a 3-year long scam, Angela Mirabella and six others have been indicted on several charges, including grand theft.

Beware of this New Scam Involving A Fake Call from CBP
10 September 2021 |

Beware of this New Scam Involving A Fake Call from CBP

Sometimes it just safer not to pick up calls from unknown phone numbers.