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Don’t be fooled by Coronavirus-related scams

The email seemed to come from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), encouraging you to click a link to sign up for notices about coronavirus tests available in your community and make a credit card donation to support research to find a cure. It seemed like a real message from the CDC.

Afterall, the coronavirus outbreak is threatening the health and well-being of hundreds of thousands of people around the globe, with more than 200,000 cases confirmed in the U.S. and growing. Why wouldn’t the CDC need help in battling this pandemic?

Too often, those emails aren’t legit, and falling for them can run the risk of your personal identification and bank or credit card information being stolen. Fraudsters are preying on your generosity and trying to trick you as you seek to support health care efforts, or they are trying to leverage fear and confusion to steal from coronavirus patients, those scared of being infected, supporters, insurers and others.

“Disasters have the potential to bring out the best in people,” said Howard Silverstone, CPA, CFF. “Unfortunately, disasters also bring out the worst in some people, and we are seeing that now with scammers using the COVID-19 outbreak to try to steal personal information and money from those who want to help.”

Coronavirus scammers are channeling schemes similar to those perpetrated in the wake of natural disasters, including:

  • Charity Fraud: Unscrupulous individuals create fake charities or charitable causes and solicit donations from those wishing to help victims recover.
  • Phishing and Identity Theft: Bad actors scour disaster damage for personal information left behind and use it to steal a true victim’s identity.
  • Theft via Scam products: People sell low-quality or imitation products. In light of the coronavirus outbreak, this could mean lower quality health products. The Federal Trade Commission and Food and Drug Administration, earlier this month, issued a warning to several companies whose products claimed to prevent or cure the coronavirus.

You don’t have to fall for these scams.

“Being vigilant in monitoring email, double checking links and information and making sure you are communicating with legitimate organizations and individuals can help reduce your risk of being taken advantage of,” said Silverstone. “If you aren’t sure, double check with someone you trust.”

CPA fraud experts offer these tips to help Americans navigate these potential scams and avoid being targeted:

  • Be wary of emails, calls or text messages requesting donations from government and health care organizations. Many fraudsters use CDC, World Health Organization and other seemingly legit logos to steal money and personal information. It’s always best to go directly to their websites, rather than following a link in an email that seems like it came from the organization.
  • Watch out for miracle cures or preventative remedies. Some scammers are trying to sell fake cures, vaccines, masks or test kits. Only purchase materials from reputable sellers or manufacturers.
  • Be on guard if you receive a phone call or text message from unknown individuals asking for donations; independently verify the organization by searching for them online. Or focus charitable efforts on well-known organizations.
  • Look for missing on unfamiliar bills that could indicate identity theft.

There are several additional resources to help individuals stay ahead of fraud scams like these.

The American Institute of CPA’s Forensic and Litigation Services Fraud Task Force offers a series of reports on how to identify and avoid different scams. The recently released “Preventing Disaster Fraud – The winds of Change,” offers a variety of tips useful during the coronavirus pandemic.

The FTC also offers information about coronavirus scams and how to avoid them.

And for more information about the coronavirus itself and how to stay healthy during this time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers several tips.

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