4 Common COVID-19 Pandemic Scams to Avoid

Father sits at a kitchen table with his toddler son on his lap and drinks coffee while reading about COVID-19 scams.

In the wake of COVID-19, we have seen thousands of Americans band together to perform altruistic acts of selflessness to help those in need. Unfortunately, the pandemic has also brought with it quite a few negative outcomes. Besides our health worries, one additional adverse impact has been the occurrence of scams related to the pandemic, and unfortunately, they are on the rise. From January 1 through April 15, the Federal Trade Commission received 18,235 reports related to COVID-19, and people reported losing $13.44 million dollars to fraud.

It’s easier to avoid becoming the target of a scam when you know what to be on the lookout for. The following are some of the common ways that scammers have been trying to deceive the public regarding COVID-19. If any of the following happens to you, do not engage with the request, and report it to the FTC.

Potential Scam: Your Travel and Vacation Plans

Scams relating to travel and vacations are among the top complaint categories that the FTC has been receiving. As many Americans are finding that their travel insurance for previously booked trips doesn’t cover, or has limited benefits when it comes to the coronavirus—or perhaps they skipped the travel insurance altogether—this is an area that’s particularly ripe with opportunity for scammers.

What You Should Know

Never believe any emails, calls or texts that come to you relating to travel insurance. If you have a question about a particular trip that you purchased insurance for, call your travel insurance company yourself to hammer out the details. Especially if someone reaches out about travel insurance that covers COVID-19 problems, specifically, or “cancel for any reason” coverage, that should be a red flag that the call is likely a scam. Although cancel for any reason coverage is a real option that most travel insurance companies offer, there are very specific limitations on how it can be used, and it isn’t usually offered as its own policy.

Potential Scam: Your Stimulus Payment

The government started rolling out payments to individuals as part of its Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act a few weeks ago. Eligible Americans—determined by income levels related in their tax returns—received up to $1,200, with an additional $500 being paid out to parents for each child that qualified.

What You Should Know

According to some estimates, over 80 percent of American adults should have received some payment. This calculator can help you determine how much you would have been eligible for. This stimulus money would have arrived either as a direct deposit into the bank account you provided when you filed your 2018 or 2019 taxes or as a printed check delivered by the United States Postal Service. It’s likely you’ve received your money already (in which case, you definitely shouldn’t believe someone who calls you with additional information regarding your stimulus check), but if you haven’t, the only legitimate place to check-in is with the IRS.

Potential Scam: Work or School-From-Home Situations

With the majority of the workforce working from home these days—and with kids out of school, in many cases for the rest of the school year—some scammers are taking advantage of the technology that makes this possible by eavesdropping through virtual programs to conduct malicious activities.

What You Should Know

Although there’s no way to 100 percent sidestep having scammers hack into your tech devices, there are plenty of things you can do to help avoid it. To start, only use software that’s been approved by your company, school or, in the case of online banking, your bank. Download personal software from trusted sources and keep a close eye on your child, who is likely using more technology now than ever before. Avoid clicking on any links that are emailed or sent you to via text message if they seem fishy or you don’t know the sender. Keep your computer up-to-date with necessary patches and updates as soon as you receive a notification, and keep in mind that on a work computer, you’ll be notified about these types of updates through a software center, not an email with a link.

Potential Scam: Coronavirus Information

The information we receive about the coronavirus is changing so quickly, it’s easy to see how many Americans might be confused about—and eager to believe—bogus claims regarding the pandemic.

What You Should Know

The only credible sources of information for things like symptoms, testing and the work being done on a vaccine will come through the Centers for Disease Control, National Institutes of Health and the World Health Organization, as well as other well-known news organizations. There is no miracle cure for COVID-19, and anyone contacting you with information regarding one is perpetrating a scam. Stick with the above reliable sources to remain up-to-date on the latest information pertaining to the outbreak.

Most scams take on the same traditional form: Someone is contacting you asking for rushed or immediate information, generally including your personal and/or financial information. Never provide any bank or personal details—including checking, savings or PayPal account information, or your Social Security Number—to someone who reaches out to you asking for that information. If you aren’t sure whether a call is legitimate or not, always air on the side of caution. Consider hanging up and calling the service the person claimed to be calling from (your bank, for example, or your insurance company) and inquire yourself.

The views expressed by the author are not necessarily those of Fifth Third Bank, National Association, and are solely the opinions of the author. This article is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute the rendering of legal, accounting, or other professional services by Fifth Third Bank, National Association or any of their subsidiaries or affiliates, and are provided without any warranty whatsoever. Deposit and credit products provided by Fifth Third Bank, National Association, Member FDIC.