Types of COVID-19 Related Fraud

By Yingjun Yan, Legal Intern

Throughout the country, federal, state and local law enforcement are on high alert to investigate reports of individuals and businesses engaging in a wide range of fraudulent and criminal behavior, including the following examples:

#1 Antibody Testing for COVID-19 Fraud

The FBI is warning the public about potential fraud schemes related to antibody tests for COVID-19. Scammers are marketing fraudulent and/or unapproved COVID-19 antibody tests, potentially providing false results. In addition, fraudsters are seeking to obtain individuals’ personal information (names, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, etc.) and personal health information, including Medicare and/or private health insurance information, which can be used in future medical insurance or identity theft schemes.

How to Report: If you think you are a victim of COVID-19 fraud, immediately report it to National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at (866) 720-5721 or disaster@leo.gov, or the FBI (visit ic3.gov, tips.fbi.gov, or call 1-800-CALL-FBI).

#2 Unsolicited Healthcare Fraud

Be cautious of unsolicited healthcare fraud schemes through emails, phone calls, or in person contact.  The FBI is warning the public about several emerging health care fraud schemes related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bad actors are selling fake COVID-19 test kits and unapproved treatments through telemarketing calls, social media platforms, and door-to-door visits. Many scammers are promising free care to patients in order to gain access to their personal and health insurance information, including their dates of birth, Social Security numbers, and financial data. The FBI wants the public to be aware of unsolicited COVID-19 Testing and Treatment schemes and warns against providing health insurance information, including Medicare or Medicaid numbers, and other personal or financial information.

Be aware of unsolicited requests for your Medicare information, even if they are accompanied by offers of “free” COVID-19 tests or supplies, or an email or call by someone claiming to be a representative from Medicare or the Department of Health and Human Services.  Scammers may use your Medicare information to submit false medical claims for unrelated, unnecessary, or fictitious services. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General is alerting the public about fraud schemes related to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Scammers are offering COVID-19 tests to Medicare beneficiaries in exchange for personal details, including Medicare information. However, the services are unapproved and illegitimate.

How to Report: If you suspect COVID-19 health care fraud, report it immediately online or call 800-HHS-TIPS (800-447-8477).

#3 IRS-Related Coronavirus Scams

Be wary of unsolicited telephone calls and e-mails from individuals claiming to be IRS and Treasury employees. Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act signed into law on Friday, March 27, 2020, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will be delivering Economic Impact Payments (EIP) to eligible taxpayers who filed tax returns for either 2019 or 2018. The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) Office of Investigations anticipates criminals will engage in various scams and schemes in attempts to intercept EIPs, and/or steal sensitive taxpayer information during these challenging times.

COVID-19 Related IRS Impersonation

Taxpayers will likely encounter fraudulent web pages or social media-based communications and/or receive phishing email, text messages, or other communications which claim to be from the IRS asking for sensitive personal information from taxpayers or payments in order to receive their EIP. These are scams. Taxpayers should not follow any embedded links or open any attached files. In some cases, scammers may use these communications to try to install malicious program on the victim’s phone or computer.  In order to avoid falling victim to fraudulent individuals either impersonating or claiming to represent the IRS, the TIGTA offers the following tips to taxpayers:

  1. The IRS will generally first contact people by mail, not by phone, about tax-related matters.
  2. If the IRS does contact you by telephone, they will not insist on any pre-payment using an iTunes card, gift card, prepaid debit card, money order, or wire transfer, in order to receive EIP.
  3. The IRS will also never request personal or financial information by e-mail, text, letter, or any social media.

How To Report: One may use this website platform to report a coronavirus-related complaint:  https://www.treasury.gov/tigta/contact_report_covid_complaint.shtml

#4 Scams Aimed at Older Adults in the COVID-19 Era

Most scams are perpetuated over the telephone, including through texts and robocalls to cell phones. The scammer will request personal or financial information, or money once they gain the trust of the older adult. The information is used to access the consumer’s bank account, open credit card accounts, or create other fake accounts in the consumer’s name. Scams are also promoted heavily through email phishing scams and online and direct mail.

Older adults with special types of assets (e.g., homes, pension plans) may be targeted for particular types of scams, including home and mortgage-related scams promising access to federal or state anti-foreclosure programs or assistance obtaining relief from the mortgage company in exchange for an up-front fee. Unfortunately, these foreclosure rescue/loan modification scammers provide little or no service, and disappear with the money, leaving the homeowner in a worse position with little time to save the home.

How to Report: You can help keep those you care about from falling for a scam, regardless of their age or health status, by reporting any scams or suspected scams to the FTC. Report a scam

#5 CARES Act Stimulus Payment Scams

Be on the lookout for telephone calls by individuals posing as government officials or payment facilitators promising CARES Act stimulus payments and asking for personal identifying information.  Also be aware of mass-mailing, spam email, or text-message campaigns to perpetrate government-imposter schemes.  These forms of communication provide a website, a phone number, or an email address for consumers to contact to arrange for stimulus payments upon payment of an advanced fee or threatening adverse consequences for failure to cooperate with the  alleged  stimulus-related transaction.

#6 Scams Demanding a Refund for the Overpayment of the CARES Act Stimulus Money

Be wary of calls claiming you received an overpayment of the stimulus money and demanding a “refund” of the difference.  Consumers may be threatened with adverse consequences such as fines, forfeiture, or arrest if they refuse to refund the money.  Callers may demand payments by stored value cards, such as iTunes, Google play, or Steam cards, or by money transmission such as Western Union or MoneyGram.

How to Report: If you think you are a victim of a scam or attempted fraud involving COVID-19, you can report it without leaving your home by calling the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721 or via the NCDF Web Complaint Form.

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