Coronavirus Scams and How to Avoid Them - Affordable Housing Online

Coronavirus Scams and How to Avoid Them

By on February 25th, 2021

Tagged As: Ask A Housing Expert

Image by Fort George G. Meade Public Affairs Office at: flickr.com/photos/ftmeade/

Our latest Ask A Housing Expert blog is from Housing Policy Specialist Robin Lovelace. Robin has 23 years of experience as a housing authority administrator in Indiana.

Since coronavirus hit the country, scammers and hackers have ramped up their volume of tricks and cons. It’s important to be aware of scams going on right now, to make sure you don’t become a victim. Check everything out before you hand over your personal information, or your hard earned money.

Scammers will try to get you to tell them your personal information, including Social Security Numbers, credit card numbers and bank account numbers. Scammers will try to text website addresses to you and ask you to open them to get more information. Don’t do that, or give them your personal information, no matter how legitimate they sound. Delete their emails, texts, and voice messages.

Not all messages we get from our users are about housing. We got a question from Bobby B. this week, asking:

“I got an email from the government that asked for my bank account information to send me my stimulus check. Is this real?”

Affordable Housing Online user Bobby B.

To make sure you don’t become a victim of the many scams being run today, be on the lookout for the following types of scams:

Coronavirus Scams

  • Pay for A Vaccine Scam

No one has to pay for a COVID-19 vaccine, and there is no list you can move up to if you pay out fees. Anyone who says otherwise is a scammer.

  • Medicare Vaccine Scam

Scammers claiming to be with Medicare have been calling seniors and offering to sign them up for the COVID-19 vaccine. They will ask for personal information. Don’t be fooled. Medicare employees will not be calling to sign you up.

  • Contact Tracer Scams

Legitimate coronavirus Contact Tracers usually work for your local health department and have been hired to call people who have been exposed to COVID-19. They will ask only for your name and age.

Legitimate Contact Tracers cannot tell you the name of the person you were in close contact with and who tested positive for COVID-19 because of confidentiality requirements. However if needed, the Contact Tracer will tell you how to quarantine yourself in order not to infect others. That is all they will do. 

  • Clinical Trial Scams

A new scam that is going on right now uses social media advertisements offering to pay you to be part of a COVID-19 clinical trial. These scams may offer you the chance to take a test vaccine or ask questions regarding COVID-19 exposure. They trick you by weaving in questions to get your personal information. These scammers might even ask you to pay to be part of the clinical trial. Don’t send them money or give out your personal information. The U.S. government keeps a database of legitimate clinical trials and lists them on a website here.

Stimulus Check Scams

If you haven’t received a stimulus payment, you can review information on the IRS website for possible answers. Also, if someone tried to scam you, the IRS is asking that you report the scam to them by emailing the IRS at phishing@irs.gov. Include the date and time you received the message, the phone number or email it came from, and the phone number or email it went to. Include a screenshot of the message, if possible.

  • Spoofing Scams

Spoofing is what scammers do to gain your trust and get your personal information. The scammer will pretend to be with a government agency, a real business or to be a neighbor living close by.

Spoofing can be used via email, text messages and phone calls. Be suspicious if you are asked to download files or to click on a website address. This can allow malware inside your computer or smartphone and access to your personal information.  

Spoofers can fake the phone number from which it appears they are calling. Your Caller-ID might show a call is coming from a real phone number connected to the IRS, the Social Security office, another government agency or even a private company. Sometimes, they fake the phone number so it looks like the call is coming from a local source with your same area code. 

Government agencies rarely will call you and if they do, a mailing will be sent to you notifying you of the upcoming call. A legitimate government agency will never ask you for your bank account or charge card numbers.

Spoofers might even try to get you to go to a website that looks like a legitimate bank or credit card company site. When you type in your user name and password, they got you. Your credit card number can quickly be sold or used to make purchases, and your bank account can be emptied in a matter of minutes. 

  • Phishing Scams

Scammers will send you an email that appears to be from a friend or a familiar company or even a government agency, but it isn’t.

When you open the email, they will try to get you to type in your personal information. This form of scamming is used by scammers who are trying to take your money, and by some shady companies trying to sell you their poorly made products or to “get more stimulus money,” or “permanent relief from foot pain,” or some other false claims.

  • Text Message Scams

Don’t fall for text messages promising you a stimulus check in exchange for your personal information. Even if the text includes a link to connect you to an IRS or other government agency website that appears to be official.

No government agency, state or federal, will send you a text message asking for this information. If you received a stimulus check in 2020, then the government already has your information and if you didn’t get a first or second stimulus payment it could be because the IRS hasn’t finished processing your 2019 tax return or you didn’t file a tax return and the IRS doesn’t have enough information to issue you a payment, or you are just not eligible for a payment.

If you want to check on specific scams that are happening in your area, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) keeps a database of reported scams that you can find here.

Better Business Bureau logo by bbb.org

Phony COVID-19 Cures

Every time a new disease or virus comes into our lives, it’s followed by scammers ready to cheat desperate people out of their money. Here are some ‘miracle cures” that aren’t even close to being miracles:

  • Chlorine Dioxide 

Sometimes sold as a cure for COVID-19, Chlorine Dioxide is actually the kind of chlorine bleach used in swimming pools and can harm or kill you, if digested.

  • Hydroxychloroquine

After clinical trials were completed last year, the National Institute of Health and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned against use of the drug to fight COVID-19. Besides being ineffective, the FDA cited risks of heart rhythm problems. 

  • Stem Cell Therapy

Although there might be some stem cell therapy studies showing promising results, don’t trust that every claim you see on the internet is true. In Missouri, a licensed physician’s assistant faces 20 criminal charges including wire fraud, for treating unsuspecting patients with a fake stem cell cure for COVID-19. 

This scammer also claimed her stem cell therapy was a remedy for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), Lyme Disease, and urinary incontinence. On top of that, her treatments used a type of amniotic fluid that didn’t even contain stem cells.

  • Vitamin D and Zinc

Even though Vitamin D and Zinc may help strengthen your body’s immune system, don’t expect to be miraculously cured of COVID-19 or become immune to the infection, if you take either of them.

What to Do If You’ve Been Scammed

If you think you’ve been scammed, you need to report this to your bank and charge card companies immediately. They will tell you what options are available to stop or slow the scam.

Contact your insurance company, as well. Your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance might cover loss of money through internet theft. If it doesn’t, consider adding that protection to your policy. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has a website that gives specific steps to take if you have lost personal information to a scammer.

Federal Trade Commission logo by ftc.gov

How to Report a Scam

To warn others about a scam and hopefully shut them down, you can report the scam to any or all of the following:

Example of a Coronavirus Scam

To give an example of a typical type of scam, I am going to describe a scam phone call I actually received while I was writing this article!

The phone number appeared to be from the same area code as my own (spoofing). I usually don’t answer calls from numbers I don’t recognize but I decided to answer this one because I was curious and I was writing about scams.

The scammer said he was with a government agency called Debt Free America. He said that because of COVID-19, a program started in 2009 was being reactivated, and I qualified to get my credit card debt paid off by the program.

The scammer wanted to know which credit card of mine had the most debt, and he named three credit card companies. I told him the one I did not have and he said he pulled the card up on his computer and asked if it started with a certain set of numbers, and could I verify the rest of the numbers.

I asked how he got my credit card number and he said he had all my information and he just needed to verify my credit card number so he could set up the payment. He even told me to access the BBB website, claiming Debt Free America has an “A+” rating, and gave me a web address which I definitely did not use. The real BBB page for Debt Free America shows a “F” rating, with multiple complaints and a 1/5 star customer rating.

I hung up and reported his scam to the FTC.