How to Protect Yourself from COVID-19 Consumer ScamsPosted on: June 22, 2021
The information provided on this post does not, and is not intended to, represent legal advice. All information available on this site is for general informational purposes only. If you need legal help, you should contact a lawyer. You may be eligible for our free legal services and can apply by calling our Covid Legal Hotline at 1-844-244-7871 or applying online here.
Scammers will stop at nothing to attempt to get personal information from vulnerable people looking for help in a crisis. Here are some common COVID-19 related scams and how to protect yourself from them.
Funeral expense scams
If you lost a loved one to COVID-19, you may be eligible for a government program that pays for funeral expenses. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will pay up to $9,000 for funeral expenses for loved ones who died of COVID-19. Survivors can apply for benefits by contacting FEMA, toll-free, at 844-684-6333. To find out if you qualify, read FEMA’s Funeral Assistance FAQs, also available in many other languages.
FEMA reports that scammers are contacting people and pretending to offer to register them for funeral expense benefits.
What to do: To avoid government imposter scams, here are some tips:
- FEMA will not contact you until you call or apply for assistance.
- The government won’t ask you to pay anything to get this benefit.
- Don’t give your own or your deceased loved one’s personal or financial information to anyone who contacts you out of the blue.
If you think you got a scam call, hang up and report it to the FEMA Helpline at 800-621-3362 or the Federal Trade Commission at ReportFraud.ftc.gov .
COVID-19 vaccine scams
As the COVID-19 vaccine is rolled out throughout the country, it is important to be on the lookout for scams. Beware of scams offering early access to vaccines for a fee. Do not share your personal or financial information if someone calls, texts, or emails you promising to get you the vaccine for a fee. Also, keep in mind that Medicare covers the cost of the COVID-19 vaccine. COVID-19 vaccines are also free to others throughout the country, although providers may charge an administration fee.
What to do: For the latest vaccine updates, check with the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) .
COVID-19 cure, air filters, and testing scams
The FTC warned about an increasing number of scams related to test kits, cures or treatments, and air filter systems designed to remove COVID-19 from the air in your home. If you receive a phone call, email, text message, or letter with claims to sell you any of these items–it’s a scam.
What to do: Testing is available through local and state governments or through your medical providers.
Fake coronavirus-related charity scams
A charity scam is when a thief poses as a real charity or makes up the name of a charity that sounds real to get money from you. Be careful about any charity calling you asking for donations. And be wary if you get a call following up on a donation pledge that you don’t remember making–it could be a scam.
What to do: If you are able to help financially, visit the website of the organization of your choice to make sure your money is going to the right place.
"Person in need" scams
Scammers could use the circumstances of the coronavirus to pose as a grandchild, relative or friend who claims to be ill, stranded in another state or foreign country, or otherwise in trouble, and ask you to send money. They may ask you to send cash by mail or buy gift cards. These scammers often beg you keep it a secret and act fast before you ask questions.
What to do: Don’t panic! Take a deep breath and get the facts. Hang up and call your grandchild or friend’s phone number to see if the story checks out. You could also call a different friend or relative. Don’t send money unless you’re sure it’s the real person who contacted you.
Scams targeting Social Security benefits
While local Social Security Administration (SSA) offices are closed to the public due to COVID-19 concerns, SSA will not suspend or decrease Social Security benefit payments or Supplemental Security Income payments due to the current COVID-19 pandemic. Scammers may mislead people into believing they need to provide personal information or pay by gift card, wire transfer, internet currency, or by mailing cash to maintain regular benefit payments during this period. Any communication that says SSA will suspend or decrease your benefits due to COVID-19 is a scam, whether you receive it by letter, text, email, or phone call.
What to do: Report Social Security scams to the SSA Inspector General online at oig.ssa.gov .
COVID-19 government imposter scams
Many of us are paying close attention to the guidance from federal, state, and local governments during this COVID-19 health emergency. Unfortunately, scammers are also paying attention. Some are even pretending to be affiliated with the government–just to scam you out of money.
What to do:
- Know that the government will never call, text, or contact you on social media saying you owe money, or to offer help getting your Economic Impact Payment (EIP) faster. If you get a message from someone claiming to be from a government agency through social media, it’s a scam. Report it to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint . If you are eligible and haven’t yet gotten your Economic Impact Payment, visit irs.gov and follow the guidance. Watch this CFPB video to learn more about your EIP. And read the FTC’s information on spotting scams related to the EIP.
- Visit government websites directly for trustworthy information. Don’t click on links in an email or text message. Scammers often send fake links to websites that look like they’re from the government. Instead of clicking on links in messages, open up a new window and search for the name of the government agency. And visit coronavirus.gov for the most up-to-date information on the pandemic.
- Say "NO" to anyone claiming to be from a government agency asking for cash, gift cards, wire transfer, cryptocurrency, or personal and financial information, whether they contact you by phone, texts email, or by showing up in person. Don’t share your Social Security, Medicare ID, driver’s license, bank account, or credit card numbers.
Student Loan Debt Relief scams
Scammers are targeting student loan borrowers and may be trying to take advantage of circumstances related to the pandemic and government relief packages. If someone contacts you and asks for personal information or a fee to suspend your student loan payment, it’s a scam. Scammers may also try to claim you are eligible for immediate loan forgiveness with fake promises of loan cancelation through “Biden Loan Forgiveness” or “CARES Act loan forgiveness.” These programs do not exist. Loan forgiveness or discharge of student debt is rare, if someone promises immediate loan forgiveness then it is a scam. Learn more about the other warning signs of a debt relief scam.
What to do:
- If you believe you have been contacted by a scammer or if you have been the victim of a student loan debt relief scam, report the scam to the Federal Trade Commission, or to your state Attorney General. You should also instruct your student loan servicer that they should only provide information about your student loan directly to you.
- Monitor your credit for any other fraud. During the pandemic, you can check your credit reports each week for free . The FTC also recommends you either request a free, one-year fraud alert or freeze your credit with the three nationwide credit bureaus.
Unemployment benefits scams
Scammers are fraudulently filing unemployment claims using stolen personal identity information. If you receive a 1099-G tax form for unemployment benefits that you didn’t claim or receive, you may be a victim of identity theft. Someone may have used your personal information to receive unemployment benefits without your knowledge.
What to do: Follow these four steps to report unemployment benefits fraud and to protect yourself:
- Report the fraud immediately to the unemployment office in the state where it occurred. If you did claim unemployment benefits and know the amount listed on your 1099-G form is incorrect, ask your state unemployment office for a corrected 1099-G.
- File your federal tax return and include only the unemployment income you received. You don’t have to wait to receive a corrected 1099-G . The IRS also recommends getting an Identity Protection (IP) PIN to prevent anyone from filing a federal tax return using your Social Security Number.
- Monitor your credit for any other fraud. During the pandemic, you can check your credit reports each week for free . The FTC also recommends you either request a free, one-year fraud alert or freeze your credit with the three credit bureaus.
- Help stop future unemployment identity fraud by filing a federal complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud or calling 1-866-720-5721.
Suspicious transactions and deposits
Some people have reported receiving prepaid cards in the mail with unemployment benefits that they didn’t apply for. Others have reported suspicious transactions and deposits in their bank accounts involving unemployment benefits. Once you receive the funds, a scammer may contact you, pretend to be from the government, and tell you the benefits were deposited by mistake. They will then ask you to send them the money .
What to do: If you receive an unexpected prepaid card for unemployment benefits or see an unexpected deposit from your state in your bank account, report it right away to your state unemployment insurance office and your bank or credit union. If you believe you have been the victim of identity theft, report the incident to your local police and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) .