Coronavirus Scams: What do they look like, how do you respond, and how do you avoid them?

By now you probably have received a phone call, email, or even a text message offering assistance or money to help during this Coronavirus pandemic. Did it seem too good to be true? That’s because it was.

Unfortunately, scammers are taking advantage of this global health crisis to exploit Americans charitable nature as well as their need for assistance.

To help Americans during this difficult time, Congress authorized direct payments from the IRS to taxpayers to provide an immediate hand-up. Congress also eased requirements on financial institutions to make it easier for banks to help their customers pay their bills and afford other necessary expenses. While these programs are administered by the federal government, many scammers are impersonating government officials or websites to trick individuals into giving up personal information.

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), since January, there have been over 125,000 consumer complaints filed related to this Coronavirus. Nearly 65,000 of these claims were fraud adding up to $80 million in financial loss. In Texas, there have been over 6,400 complaints with 3,600 fraud-related cases resulting in $3.2 million lost.

Many of these scams appear to be legitimate. You should be wary of any unsolicited offers.

Here are some examples of common schemes:

  • Investment opportunities for the stock of publicly traded companies that will cure this Coronavirus
  • Work from home schemes that guarantee to make you rich
  • Organizations posing as charities
  • Organizations offering a vaccine or other cures
  • Fake Center for Disease Control (CDC) and World Health Organization websites or emails requesting you click a link for information on this Coronavirus
  • Entities offering financial aid that are not the federal government or your financial institution
  • Online sellers offering in-demand goods like cleaning products and masks
  • Robocalls offering advice or products

The best way to avoid falling prey to a scam is to ignore it. Do not click any links sent to you, do not answer robocalls, and never reveal any personal information to anyone whose identity you have not verified.

How do you protect yourself?

The FTC maintains a website on scam alerts where you can see the latest information and sign up for email notices. Also, you can file a complaint with the FTC. To learn more about this Coronavirus go directly to the CDC. You are able to verify investment opportunities by visiting the Securities and Exchange Commission. The FTC also maintains a list of legitimate charities. If you have any further questions or concerns about a potential scam or feel you have been a victim of a scam please contact my office at 940-497-5031 or visit my website.

What is Congress doing to stop scammers?

When a consumer has been scammed, one of their biggest concerns is the violation of their privacy. It is highly unlikely a scammer will take the time to follow any federal privacy law. That said, it is important to require any entity that collects personal information to clarify how they collect and process this data. This will bring transparency and accountability to the use and protection of consumer data.  

Just last week, the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce, which I chaired during the 114th Congress, held a hearing to discuss how the pandemic is affecting consumers. I spoke with a witness about the advances of machine learning contributing to this Coronavirus research as well as how we can safely reopen our communities.

Highlighted by this unprecedented time, it is imperative that consumers and patients know how their data is being accessed and used. Congress must resume negotiating to secure a federal privacy law. Not only will this give Americans better peace of mind, but it will help limit the ability of scammers getting their hands on your information.