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.

COVID-19 vaccine scam.

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 breeds 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 opening new ones.
  • Changing your passwords and PINs.

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

Scams Relating to COVID-19

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Be On Alert for Fake COVID-19 Tests That Rip You Off

Be On Alert for Fake COVID-19 Tests That Rip You Off

Need to get tested? Only get tested at healthcare facilities or pharmacies, or buy at-home tests that are FDA-approved.

Scammers Selling Fake COVID-19 Vaccine Cards Want to Steal Your Identity

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Using a fake COVID-19 vaccination card is not only illegal, but it can lead to having your identity stolen—it's not worth it.

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

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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
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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.

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Real Chase Fraud Text Alert or Scam Message?
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Truist Text Alert: How to Identify a Real Text from a Scam
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Truist Text Alert: How to Identify a Real Text from a Scam

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Free Netflix for a Year: Don't Believe the Hype, It's a Scam
29 August 2022 |

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Netflix has never offered a free subscription for an entire year. If you receive this offer from "Netflix," it's a scam.

Received an Amazon OTP Text? It Could Be a Scam
16 August 2022 |

Received an Amazon OTP Text? It Could Be a Scam

If you received an Amazon OTP text message out of the blue, it could be a sign that someone else is trying to log into your account.

Guides Relating to COVID-19

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Restrictions & Guidelines for Traveling During the COVID-19 Pandemic
20 December 2021 |

Restrictions & Guidelines for Traveling During the COVID-19 Pandemic

As the holiday season approaches, be sure you understand the COVID-19 rules and restrictions for the city you're visiting so you can enjoy your vacation.

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

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Beat eBay Scams and Stay Safe When Shopping Online

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Whether it's a counterfeit product, a sketchy seller, or a price too good to be true, eBay scams are widespread, so it's important to know how to protect yourself.

How to Claim Free Grubhub Delivery for a Year with Amazon Prime

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Amazon's acquisition of 2% of Just Eat Takeaway is good news for Amazon Prime subscribers—free food delivery from Grubhub is just a few clicks away.

Cars with Cheap Insurance: Lower Your Monthly Costs
6 July 2022 |

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In the market for a new car? The cost of the vehicle itself isn't the only thing you want to consider. If you want to keep your costs down, get a car with low car insurance rates.

News Relating to COVID-19

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Searches for "COVID Vaccine 5G" Hit All-Time High, But Microchips Definitely Not in Vaccine
2 February 2022 |

Searches for "COVID Vaccine 5G" Hit All-Time High, But Microchips Definitely Not in Vaccine

The number of people searching for the term "COVID vaccine 5G" on Google has just hit an all-time high, but there's one way to be sure that there are no microchips.

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.

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Roe vs. Wade Overturned: Abortion Rights in Your State

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Find out what the overturning of Roe vs. Wade means for abortion rights in your state.

Social Media: The New Favorite Amongst Scammers
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Social Media: The New Favorite Amongst Scammers

Social media platforms are possibly the most used tools in committing fraud, responsible for $770 million in losses.