It can be frustrating to sift through information about the coronavirus public health crisis, as the information scientists and policymakers are learning about the virus is constantly evolving. But there is one irrefutable fact: In times of confusion, scammers will look to exploit the situation any way they can.
A number of misleading calls and texts have been reported that purport to be relaying information about health and safety relating to the pandemic. Here’s how you can identify and protect yourself against some of the more common phone, messaging, and inbox scams.
1. Phone alerts referring to possible coronavirus exposure are bogus.
Law enforcement officials in Maine have notified residents that there have been reports of people receiving text messages indicating the recipient has been in contact with a person who has tested positive for coronavirus. The message is accompanied by a link of unknown origin—one that is likely an attempt to gather personal information.
Currently, there's not any kind of alert system regarding potential coronavirus exposure that would send notifications without a user opting in and agreeing for their information to be shared. Also, be wary of apps offering to chart the spread of the virus, which could compromise your phone’s security. If you’re still unsure about a notice, you can contact your local health department for more information.
2. Watch out for emails and messages claiming to be from the CDC.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has released a statement cautioning people to be suspicious of any email purporting to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These messages may prompt you to follow a link for more details, which could lead to malware or a solicitation for personal information.
3. The government will not email you asking for information so it can release a stimulus check.
While residents await stimulus checks as part of a $2 trillion relief package, scammers are taking the opportunity to solicit banking information. The government will not request that information via email. Officials will be using information taken from 2018 or 2019 tax returns to deliver the checks. If they do not have your direct deposit information on file, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has an online form on their official website that will allow you to submit it and check the status of your payment.
4. Beware requests for charitable contributions.
Opportunists are banking on the charitable nature of individuals to pose as organizations with financial needs. Obviously, many are legitimate, but you’ll want to confirm that by searching for the charity’s name online or by using sites like CharityWatch to determine whether they’re genuine. And don’t ever wire money.
5. Avoid offers for medical equipment or treatments.
Messages that are purporting to offer masks, treatment, or testing for coronavirus should be ignored. Equipment like gloves and masks can be counterfeit and there are no proven treatments or cures for the viral illness. There are also no legitimate offers for free testing kits, which the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) warns may be offered in robocalls along with equipment like a diabetic monitor to provoke at-risk members of the population into giving up information.
Treat your communications devices with the same diligence as your physical health. Don’t click on unfamiliar links, ignore or block messages from unknown parties, and never give out your private information.