Coronavirus Scams, Rumors, and Price Gouging
During the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, scammers may try to take advantage of you through misinformation and scare tactics. They might get in touch by phone, email, postal mail, text, or social media. Protect your money and your identity by not sharing personal information like your bank account number, Social Security number, or date of birth. Learn more about these scams and how to report them.
Common Coronavirus Scams
Scammers change their methods frequently. Current coronavirus scams include:
- Charity scams - Fake charities pop up during disasters. And scammers can also claim to be from real charities. Learn how to research charity claims and protect your money.
- Checks from the government - Scammers say they’re from the IRS or another government agency and ask for your personal information or try to charge you fake fees for getting your stimulus check or offer you a way to get the money early.
- FDIC and banking - People pretend to call from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) or your bank and say your bank account or your ability to get cash are in danger and ask for your personal information.
- Grandparent and military service member scams - A scammer pretends to be a grandchild or a military service member who’s sick or in trouble because of the coronavirus. They contact you asking to wire them money to pay for fake medical or travel expenses.
- Testing, vaccine, and treatment scams - Beware of offers for "home" test kits and unknown "miracle" cures or vaccines. They do not exist. Scammers are also targeting Medicare recipients by offering COVID-19 testing in an attempt to steal personal information.
Learn about other types of coronavirus scams and listen to recordings of sample phone messages from scammers.
Report Coronavirus Scams
Rumors, myths, and conspiracy theories about the coronavirus can be frightening and misleading. Go to FEMA's Rumor Control page to check out the real answers about the rumors you're hearing.
Report Price Gouging
During times of high demand, sellers may raise prices to a very high and unfair level on needed items like:
This is called price gouging and it’s illegal. If you suspect price gouging, report it to your state attorney general.
Telephone scammers try to steal your money or personal information. Scams may come through phone calls from real people, robocalls, or text messages. Callers often make false promises, such as opportunities to buy products, invest your money, or receive free product trials. They may also offer you money through free grants and lotteries. Some scammers may call with threats of jail or lawsuits if you don’t pay them.
Report Telephone Scams
It's important to report phone scams to federal agencies. They can’t investigate individual cases. But your report can help them collect evidence for lawsuits against scammers.
For more help in resolving consumer issues, you can report scams to your state consumer protection office.
Protect Yourself From Telephone Scams
Remember these tips to avoid being a victim of a telephone scam:
Don’t give in to pressure to take immediate action.
Don’t say anything if a caller starts the call asking, “Can you hear me?” This is a common tactic for scammers to record you saying “yes.” Scammers record your “yes” response and use it as proof that you agreed to a purchase or credit card charge.
Don’t provide your credit card number, bank account information, or other personal information to a caller.
Don’t send money if a caller tells you to wire money or pay with a prepaid debit card.
Banking scams involve attempts to access your bank account. Use this information to recognize, report, and protect yourself from them.
Popular banking scams
The most common banking scams include:
Overpayment scams - A scam artist sends you a counterfeit check. They tell you to deposit it in your bank account and wire part of the money back to them. Since the check was fake, you’ll have to pay your bank the amount of the check, plus you’ll lose any money you wired.
Unsolicited check fraud - A scammer sends you a check for no reason. If you cash it, you may be authorizing the purchase of items or signing up for a loan you didn’t ask for.
Automatic withdrawals - A scam company sets up automatic debits from your bank account to qualify for a free trial or to collect a prize.
Phishing - You receive an email message that asks you to verify your bank account or debit card number.
Report Banking Scams
The proper organization to report a banking scam depends on which type you were a victim of.
How to Protect Yourself
Remember these tips to avoid being a victim of a banking scam:
Be suspicious if you are told to wire a portion of funds from a check you received back to a company.
Be wary of lotteries or free trials that ask for your bank account number.
Verify the authenticity of a cashier’s check with the bank that it is drawn on before depositing it.
When verifying a check or the issuer, use contact information on a bank’s website.
Don’t trust the appearance of checks or money orders. Scammers can make them look legitimate and official.
Don’t deposit checks or money orders from strangers or companies you don’t have a relationship with.
Don’t wire money to people or companies you don’t know.
Don’t give your bank account number to someone who calls you, even for verification purposes.
Don’t click on links in an email to verify your bank account.
Don’t accept a check that includes an overpayment.
Census scams happen when someone pretends to work for the Census Bureau to steal your personal information. Use this information to learn how these scams work, and protect yourself against them.
How Census Related Fraud Works
Some scam artists may pretend to be work for the Census Bureau. They'll try to collect your personal information to use for fraud or to steal your identity. These scam artists may send you letters that seem to come from the U.S. Census Bureau. Others may come to your home to collect information about you.
Report Census-Related Fraud
If you suspect fraud, report it to the Census Bureau’s regional office for your state. Forward scam emails to the Census Bureau at email@example.com.
How to Protect Yourself
Follow these tips to ensure that your personal information stays safe:
Don’t share your full Social Security number, bank or credit card account numbers, or your mother’s maiden name. The Census Bureau won't ask for this type of information.
Don't trust emails from claiming to be from the Census Bureau. This agency sends letters to invite individuals to take part in its surveys. If you get an email from the Census Bureau, it's probably a scam.
Don't trust caller ID. Call the Census Bureau’s National Processing Center to verify a telephone survey.
Government grant scammers try to get your money by guaranteeing you a grant for costs like college or home repairs. They ask for your checking account information. With it, they say they will "deposit the grant money into your account" or withdraw a “one-time processing fee.”
In reality, government grants are rarely awarded to individuals. They usually go to state and local governments, universities, and other organizations. The money is awarded to help pay for research and projects that benefit the public.
Report Grant Scams
If you think you’ve been a victim of a government grant scam, report it to the Federal Trade Commission. You can file a complaint with the FTC:
The FTC enters fraud-related complaints into a database available to law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.
If you’ve paid a fee to learn about or apply for a government grant, you can report it to your state consumer protection office. The government does not charge for information or applications for federal grants.
Protect Yourself From Grant Scams
Remember these tips to avoid being a victim of a grant scam:
Be wary of advertisements and calls about free government grants. These are usually scams.
Register your phone number with the National Do Not Call Registry. This may reduce the number of telemarketing calls you receive. You can register:
Don’t give your bank account information to anyone you don’t know.
Don’t pay any money for a government grant. You can get information about government grants for free at public libraries and online at Grants.gov. Government agencies don’t charge processing fees for grants they’ve awarded.
Don’t believe callers who claim they’re from an official-sounding government agency with news about a grant. Check out the name of the agency online or in the phone book—it may be fake.
Don’t assume a phone call is originating from the area code displayed on your caller ID. Some scam artists use technology to disguise their location and make it appear as if they’re calling from Washington, DC.
Investment scams promise high returns, without financial risk. Use this information to report and protect your investments.
Report Investment Scams
Report investment scams, if you have been a victim.
The SEC may forward your complaint to the investment company. It will request that the company reply to your complaint. The FTC will not research your individual case of investment fraud.
How to Protect Yourself
Remember these tips to avoid being a victim of an investment scam:
Research investment opportunities and investment professionals. Your state securities regulator and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority offer information.
Learn where the investment and the investment professional have registered. It may be in your state or with other regulators.
Get all the details of an investment in writing, but still do your own research.
Ask questions about costs, timing, risks, and other issues.
Don’t give in to pressure to invest immediately.
Don’t be influenced by promises that seem too good to be true. These promises may include “guaranteed earnings” or “risk-free” investments.
Don’t invest just because the investment professional seems nice, trustworthy, or has professional titles.
Don’t invest based on claims that other people, "just like you", have invested.
Don’t feel obligated to invest, even if the professional gave you a gift, lunch, or reduced their fees.
Lottery and Sweepstakes Scams
Prize scammers try to get your money or personal information through fake lotteries, sweepstakes, or other contests. Many claim that you’ve won a prize but must pay a fee to collect it. Others require you to provide personal information to enter a “contest.” These scams may reach you by postal mail, email, phone call, robocall, or text message.
Report Lottery and Sweepstakes Scams
To report a prize scam:
Federal agencies investigate scams and pursue criminal charges against the scammers. They don’t, however, investigate individual cases. State consumer protection offices might pursue individual cases as well as investigate scams.
Protect Yourself From Lottery and Sweepstakes Scams
Remember these tips to avoid being a victim of a lottery or sweepstakes scam:
Check the postage on a mailed prize notice. If it was sent bulk rate, it’s probably a scam.
Ask yourself if you entered a particular contest. If you don’t remember entering it, the prize notice is likely a fake.
Some scammers use the names of organizations that run real sweepstakes. Research the company's contact information. Contact them to verify if the prize is legitimate.
Register your phone number with the National Do Not Call Registry. You may register online or by calling 1-888-382-1222. If you still receive telemarketing calls after registering, there’s a good chance that the calls are scams.
Report spam text messages to your mobile carrier, then delete them.
Hang up on suspicious calls.
Don’t pay a fee, taxes, or shipping charges to receive a prize.
Don’t wire money to, or deposit a check from, any organization claiming to run a sweepstakes or lottery.
Don’t provide your credit card number or bank account information to receive a prize.
Don’t believe someone just because they say they’re from the government or an official-sounding organization.
Don’t reply to, or click on any links in, a spam text message.
Don’t attend a sales meeting to be eligible to win a prize.
Don’t give in to pressure to take immediate action.
Don’t believe anyone claiming to be from a foreign lottery or sweepstakes. It’s illegal to enter foreign contests like these.
Some scammers set up fake organizations to take advantage of the public’s generosity. They especially take advantage of tragedies and disasters.
How to Report Charity Scams
The Do Not Call Registry doesn’t apply to charities. But you can ask an organization not to contact you again.
How to Protect Yourself From Charity Scams
Follow these tips to detect common charity scam tactics:
Don’t give in to high pressure tactics such as urging you to donate immediately.
Don’t assume that you can get a tax deduction for donating to an organization. Use the IRS’s database of 501(c)3 organizations to find out if it has this status.
Don’t send cash. Pay with a check or credit card.
Pyramid schemes are scams that need a constant flow of new participants to keep them going. They are marketed as multi-level marketing programs or other types of legitimate businesses. They use new recruits’ "investments" to pay “profits” to those participating longer.
Pyramid schemes collapse when they can't recruit enough new participants to pay earlier investors. These scams always fail—it’s mathematically guaranteed.
Report Pyramid Schemes
Report pyramid schemes to:
How to Protect Yourself
Keep these tips in mind to avoid falling for a pyramid scheme:
Be wary if you have to recruit more participants to increase your profit, or get your investment back.
Ask if the company sells non-tangible products and services rather than physical products.
Check out the business with the Better Business Bureau, your state attorney general, or state licensing agencies.
Ask to see financial statements audited by a certified public accountant (CPA). Find out if the company earns income from selling its products or services to customers, not to its sales team.
Be skeptical of success stories and testimonials of fantastic earnings.
Don’t invest until you’ve verified that the business is legitimate.
Don’t get involved in businesses that make you recruit new participants.
Don’t buy into franchises that promise big or quick profits.
Don’t invest in any “opportunity” bearing warning signs of a pyramid scheme.
A Ponzi scheme is a type of investment fraud. Use this information to identify, report, and protect yourself against these scams.
How Ponzi Schemes Work
Ponzi schemes rely on money from new investors to pay “returns” to current investors. To keep the scheme running, organizers need to keep recruiting new investors and try to keep current investors from cashing out. When they can’t, the scheme collapses.
Report Ponzi Schemes
Report Ponzi schemes to:
How to Protect Yourself From Ponzi Schemes
Keep these tips in mind to protect yourself from Ponzi schemes:
Be wary of any investment that regularly pays positive returns regardless of what the overall market is doing.
Avoid investments if you don’t understand them or can’t get complete information about them.
Be alert to account statement errors, which may be a sign of investment fraud.
Be suspicious if you don’t receive a payment or have difficulty cashing out.
Don’t put your money in investments that promise big returns with little to no risk.
Don’t contribute to any investment that isn’t registered with the SEC or with state regulators.
Don’t get financially involved with any unlicensed investment professional or unregistered firm.
Ticket selling scams happen when a scammer uses tickets as bait to steal your money. The scammer usually sells fake tickets, or you pay for a ticket, but never receive it. They are common when tickets for popular concerts, plays, and sporting events sell out.
Ways That Ticket Scammers Go After Your Money
Scammers, including individuals and fake resale companies, take advantage of ticket shortages by:
- Charging prices much higher than the face value of a ticket
- Creating counterfeit tickets with forged barcodes and logos of real ticket companies
- Selling duplicates of a legitimate ticket and emailing it to several buyers
- Pretending to sell tickets online to steal your credit card information
Report Ticket Scams
There are several options to report a ticket scam.
How to Protect Yourself
Learn what you can do to avoid becoming a victim:
- Buy tickets at the venue box office.
- Buy tickets from authorized brokers and third party sellers, with verified contact information.
- Look for red flags in the ticket offer. If the offer has imperfect English or unusual phrases, the offer could be a scam.
- Verify that the seller has a real physical addresses and phone numbers. Scammers often post fake addresses, PO Box, or no address on their websites.
- Check the actual web address of the resale ticket seller. Some scammers create phony websites that closely resemble authentic ticket company websites.
- Search for negative reviews about the seller. Use the seller’s name, email address, and phone number, along with the words “fraud,” “scams,” and “fake tickets” for your online search.
- Verify the details on the ticket. Check the date and the time printed on the tickets. Make sure the section and seat numbers actually exist at the venue.
- Have the seller meet you in person in a public place for the ticket exchange.
- Ask the seller for proof that they bought the tickets, if you are buying from an individual.
- Use a credit card to pay third party sellers. Your credit card offers protections, if you need to dispute a charge.
- Check for complaints against a ticket seller with your state’s consumer protection agency.
- Don’t wire transfer money to pay for tickets.
- Don’t trust sellers who want you to pay with a prepaid money card.
- Don’t meet an individual ticket seller alone or in a low-traffic area.
- Don’t automatically trust online search results for ticket sellers. Search results can include paid ads, sellers that charge high fees, and scams.
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August 31, 2020