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How To Avoid These Common Coronavirus Scams

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A close up of a real test kit for Covid-19 at Newton-Wellesley Hospital in Newton, Massachusetts. Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images
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Con artists are looking to take advantage of our growing anxiety.

Nick Hanna, the US Attorney for the Central District of California (which includes L.A.), says the Department of Justice has seen a spike in COVID-19 fraud across the country. He warns people to be wary of:

  • fake test kits
  • quack cures
  • bogus charities

Hanna said his agency is making COVID-19 fraud cases a priority.
Last week, federal authorities at LAX intercepted a package from the UK containing fake coronavirus home-testing kits. And this weekend, a man was arrested in the UK for manufacturing and possessing what authorities believe are fake test kits. It's not clear if these two cases are connected.

In Macon County, Georgia, officials have warned residents about people people going door to door claiming they can perform authorized coronavirus tests.

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Hanna said one of the most serious scams he's aware of involves fake testing kits that direct people to drink toxic liquids.

"We're also starting to see computer phishing schemes in which people are masquerading as the Centers for Disease Control [or the] World Health Organization and trying to obtain personal information," he said.

Quartz reports that people in Japan and Italy have been tricked by phishing campaigns. They were targeted with fake email health alerts that planted malware or infected their computers with a banking trojan.

And, nope, sorry, Starbucks isn't offering $100 coupons during the pandemic.

So how can you avoid these coronavirus scams? The Better Business Bureau has a handy scam tracker.

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The group also has a lot of great tips to help you avoid various scams, whether it's face masks that never arrive or fake cures and phony prevention measures or dubious crowdfunding campaigns or government relief scams.

When you see an offer for government help:

  • Be wary of unsolicited social media messages from people claiming to work for US government agencies. Government agencies rarely communicate via social media. Do a search and see if that agency exists. Find contact info for the agency, call them and see if that person actually works for the agency.
  • Don't pay "government agents" money. If anyone claiming to be from the government asks for up front money, it's almost certainly a scam.
  • Be wary of unsolicited emails, too. Look at the sender's email address. Does it match up with email addresses of people who actually work at that agency? You can search online to find most agencies' email naming conventions.
  • Don't trust social media offers from friends. Scammers can impersonate real people on social media. Before you shell out any dough, call your friend to make sure they actually sent you the message.

If you spot a fraud, you can report it to the National Center for Disaster Fraud by calling its hotline at 866-720-5721 or emailing disaster@leo.gov.

Stay smart, stay safe.