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Avoiding COVID-19 scams

In addition to taking safety measures to protect your health during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is also important to protect your personal information and finances from cybercriminals trying to profit from the crisis. Here are some tips for avoiding COVID-19 scams.
image with cell phone warning of covid-19 fraud and scams

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact more and more Americans, cybercriminals have taken this opportunity to profit from the crisis. In addition to taking safety measures to protect your health, it is also important to protect your personal information and finances. Here are some tips for avoiding COVID-19 scams.

Watch out for price gouging

Products like hand sanitizer, toilet paper, masks and gloves have become increasingly hard to find. Sellers have been taking advantage of the situation by charging several times the original price of these items. Beware of extreme price markups and know that in some states, price gouging is illegal.

Check the charity before donating money

Trustworthy charitable organizations, like the American Kidney Fund (AKF), are raising money to help those struggling with the impact the coronavirus is having on our everyday lives. AKF is one of the nation's top-rated nonprofits and 100% of the money we are raising for our Coronavirus Emergency Fund goes directly to people with kidney disease in need. This information can be verified through other organizations, like Charity Navigator, which has included AKF on its list of highly rated nonprofits providing emergency assistance during this crisis.

Not all requests for money during a crisis are coming from trustworthy sources, though. Criminals may contact you claiming to represent a charity and ask you to give them money. To make sure a charity is legitimate before you donate, look it up using sources like the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving AllianceCharity NavigatorCharity WatchConsumer Reports or GuideStar.

Do your research before making any investments

People have been receiving communications urging them to buy the stock of companies that specialize in COVID-19-related products and services. If you are interested in investing in any stocks, be sure to carefully research the company before making any investments and only make investments through legitimate sources. Do not provide your financial information to anyone who may contact you about investing in stocks.

Do not respond to robocalls

Using illegal robocalls to lure victims is nothing new. Scammers have recently tailored their robocalls to target those affected by COVID-19. One robocall reported by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) claims to be from the Social Security Administration. The robocall warns the recipient to call a phone number provided to resolve issues with their social security account. These calls are fake. Legitimate government agencies will never contact you to ask for personal information or money.

Other COVID-19-related robocalls include offering fake COVID-19 tests to Medicare recipients and scaring small businesses into buying online listing services. You can learn more about these robocalls and hear some samples on the FTC's website.
Never respond to these calls or any voicemails they may leave you. If you get scam call like this, you can also block the number it came from — learn how to do that here.

Watch out for insurance scams

Avoid speaking with callers or clicking on links claiming to offer insurance that covers COVID-19-related problems. Many such scammers will pretend they are calling from a legitimate insurance company. Consumers can verify all offers for insurance by contacting the insurance company directly through the contact information on their public website to ensure the offer is genuine. Do not go to any websites that the callers direct you to.

Another common example of an insurance scam is receiving a robocall that asks you to dial a toll-free number through which someone may be selling COVID-19 health insurance. Never buy insurance from a source that has not been verified, even if they claim to be representing an insurance company you have heard of.

Scammers may also call and tell you that your health insurance has been cancelled. They will then ask you to make a payment over the phone to reinstate their coverage. If you receive such a call, hang up and call your insurance company directly to confirm that there are no legitimate issues with your coverage. You can find the number to call on your insurance card.

Find out more about COVID-19-related insurance scams from the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud.

Check the legitimacy of any offers of money or stimulus checks

With so many people in need during this crisis, scammers are taking advantage by pretending to offer people grants, free money or pretending to provide access to stimulus funds for a fee. You should only submit personal information to the IRS using their website and never in response to a call, text or email. The IRS will not contact you by phone, email, text message or social media with information about your stimulus payment or to ask for more information. They will also not ask you to pay to access your stimulus money.

Scammers may contact you pretending to be the IRS. They may ask you to deposit your stimulus check and then send them money back because you were paid more than you were owed. This is not something the IRS will contact you about. You can find more information about stimulus checks and avoiding scams around them from the FTC.

For any non-stimulus offers of financial assistance, be sure you know who is making the offer and that you can verify their identity. Only apply for financial assistance through grant programs offered by legitimate organizations, like AKF's Coronavirus Emergency Fund.

Pay attention to what your kids are doing online

Since most children are completing their school lessons online due to the pandemic lockdown, they are especially vulnerable to online predators. Be sure to have a discussion with your children about online dangers and how to protect themselves. This includes avoiding strangers online and not giving away any personal information. Younger children's online activity should be carefully monitored.

You can find more information and resources for people with kidney disease by visiting our special coronavirus webpage at AKF will update the page with important information for people with kidney disease and their caregivers as the coronavirus crisis continues to unfold.

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Kate Tremont and Gina Johnson

Kate Tremont is the government affairs manager and Gina Johnson is a patient services coordinator at the American Kidney Fund.