COVID-19 Scams? Don’t Worry, Just Watch Out
Get an email for a ‘miracle’ vaccine? Delete it.
The Minnesota Attorney General’s Office and other agencies are urging people to be on the lookout for emerging scams related to COVID-19, including emails selling “miracle” vaccines and phony fundraisers on social media asking for money for people who fall ill.
Federal and state agencies are taking swift action to manage and respond to COVID-19. At the same time, scammers are taking advantage of the public’s heightened awareness and uncertainty to create scams targeted at people’s pocketbooks and sensitive online information.
Here’s an overview of the most commonly linked scams and some steps you can take to protect yourself and your information.
+ Fake websites selling bogus products
Watch for websites that advertise fake COVID-19 vaccines and other unproven treatments. There is currently no FDA-approved vaccine to treat or cure the virus. There are also no FDA-approved pills, lotions, lozenges or any other prescription or over-the-counter health products for COVID-19.
+ Phony fundraisers and donation campaigns
Scammers may use social media posts, emails and texts to solicit donations for victims.
+ Imposter scams
Watch for malicious emails claiming to be sent from credible agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services or the World Health Organization. Imposters will pose as these agencies in an effort to get you to click on links that might contain malware, giving them access to your personal or financial information.
+ Price gouging
Though not a scam in the typical sense, this is an unethical practice common during times of emergency. The Better Business Bureau is alerting consumers to price gouging for high-demand supplies including hand sanitizer and face masks. According to the BBB, price gouging is when a seller spikes the prices of goods, services or commodities to a level much higher than is considered reasonable or fair and is considered exploitative, potentially to an unethical extent. The best way to avoid price gouging is to plan ahead and have the necessary supplies you need on hand.
Take these measures to avoid getting scammed:
+ Get updates from official sources
If you are seeking updates about COVID-19 and its impact in Minnesota, get information directly from the relevant governmental agencies, not from suspect emails, sketchy websites, or social media posts from unknown origins. For specific statewide information, you can stay informed about COVID-19 by visiting the Minnesota Department of Health or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention websites. The Minnesota Department of Health has a COVID-19 Hotline at: 651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3902 (7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday).
+ Do your research before donating to a non-profit or charity
Don’t be rushed or pressured into making a donation to a non-profit, charity, or fundraiser related to COVID-19; and never make a donation by money-wire, paying cash or purchasing gift cards. Instead, before donating, do your research to determine if the charity is legitimate. See the Attorney General’s Charities Information for the Public webpage to learn more about tips for researching charities before you donate.
+ Ignore online offers for “miracle” health products, treatments or vaccines
If you see advertisements or offers for products online or in emails, you should ignore them. They are a scam. Reports of treatment or prevention will come from official agencies and news sources.
+ Report suspected scams
If you think you have been the victim of, or were targeted by, a COVID-19 scam, contact the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office. You can file a complaint online or by calling 651-296-3353 (Metro) or 800-657-3787 (Greater Minnesota). Additionally, you can use the BBB’s Scam Tracker tool to learn about and report scams in your area.
+ Don’t click on links from unknown sources
By clicking on unknown links from unknown sources, you can inadvertently download malicious software or viruses on your computer, which can result in identity theft and exposure of your sensitive personal or financial information.
+ Update your computer and anti-virus software
Make sure your antivirus and anti-malware software is up to date and all operating system security patches have been installed. You can report spam emails to the Internet Crime Complaint Center.