Coronavirus Scams COVID-19

Law enforcement and government agencies are warning citizens to stay aware of scams that are exploiting the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The US Federal Trade Commission and the US Food and Drug Administration are warning of the rise in scam products marketed as cures for COVID-19.

According to a news release, warning letters have been issued  to seven sellers of unapproved and misbranded products that claim that they can treat or prevent the COVID-19 virus that has killed over 10,000 people in the US. 

The products in question include teas, essential oils and colloidal silver. The FTC says there is no evidence of these products treating the virus.

While the World Health Organization and researchers across the world are working to create a treatment for the virus, the FDA has not approved any vaccine or drug at this time.

The FTC and FDA have jointly issued warning letters to seven sellers of unapproved and misbranded products, claiming they can treat or prevent the Coronavirus. The companies’ products include teas, essential oils, and colloidal silver.

The companies include the Florida company Vital Silver, United Kingdom company Quinessence Aromatherapy Ltd., Oklahoma company N-ergetics, California company GuruNanda, LLC, 5) Canadian company Vivify Holistic Clinic, Idaho company Herbal Amy LLC, and Missouri-based Christian pastor and religious media program The Jim Bakker Show.

The FTC says the companies in question have no evidence to back up their claims, as required by law, and again  the FDA has not approved any vaccine or drug at this time.

“The FDA considers the sale and promotion of fraudulent COVID-19 products to be a threat to the public health. We have an aggressive surveillance program that routinely monitors online sources for health fraud products, especially during a significant public health issue such as this one. The FDA’s laws are designed to protect the public health by ensuring, among other things, that drugs are safe and effective for their intended uses,” FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn, M.D. said in a news release.

The FTC has published a list of tips to help consumers from becoming the victim of scammers which includes the following suggestions.

  • "Hang up on robocalls. Don’t press any numbers. Scammers are using illegal robocalls to pitch everything from scam Coronavirus treatments to work-at-home schemes. The recording might say that pressing a number will let you speak to a live operator or remove you from their call list, but it might lead to more robocalls, instead.
  • Ignore online offers for vaccinations and home test kits. Scammers are trying to get you to buy products that aren’t proven to treat or prevent the Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) — online or in stores. At this time, there also are no FDA-authorized home test kits for the Coronavirus. Visit the FDA to learn more.
  • Fact-check information. Scammers, and sometimes well-meaning people, share information that hasn’t been verified. Before you pass on any messages, contact trusted sources. Visit What the U.S. Government is Doing for links to federal, state and local government agencies.
  • Know who you’re buying from. Online sellers may claim to have in-demand products, like cleaning, household, and health and medical supplies when, in fact, they don’t.
  • Don’t respond to texts and emails about checks from the government. The details are still being worked out. Anyone who tells you they can get you the money now is a scammer.
  • Don’t click on links from sources you don’t know. They could download viruses onto your computer or device.
  • Watch for emails claiming to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or experts saying they have information about the virus. For the most up-to-date information about the Coronavirus, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
  • Do your homework when it comes to donations, whether through charities or crowdfunding sites. Don’t let anyone rush you into making a donation. If someone wants donations in cash, by gift card, or by wiring money, don’t do it."

COVID-19 Economic Impact Payments

The Internal Revenue Service is warning taxpayers that they could be targeted by scammers who may attempt to get someone to sign over their COVID-19 Economic Impact Payment checks that will soon arrive for taxpayers.

"Unfortunately criminals are taking this unprecedented pandemic as an opportunity to exploit the public," IRS Special Agent in Charge Ryan L. Korner said in a news release. "It is critical now more than ever to remain vigilant for scams that are attempting to steal your personal information and your money. All Americans should specifically be on the lookout for scammers trying to directly steal their COVID-19 Economic Impact Payment, as well as fraudsters trying to trick them into providing sensitive information by convincing them it is required to receive their payment from the IRS."

Taxpayers could also be targeted by way of email, phishing and malware schemes that are designed to trick taxpayers into thinking these are official communications from the IRS, tax industry professionals or tax software companies, or by diverting users to a fake IRS website where user information can be stolen. The IRS also warns of phone calls that could impersonate the IRS. 

"While much of the country is working from home, scammers and con artists are also working – on schemes to steal your money," United States Attorney Nick Hanna said in the news release. "Criminals are taking advantage of the health emergency, so I urge everyone to heed the warnings to protect your personal information, your bank account and anything potentially valuable to a fraudster. The Justice Department will vigorously investigate and prosecute criminals, but we need everyone to be extra careful so they can avoid becoming a victim."

Visit IRS.gov/coronavirus for the latest information.

Local Impact and Response

The Sate of Tennessee has issued warnings about recent scams that have targeted Tennesseans including fraudulent Calls Social Security Administration phone calls, gift card scams, credit card fraud and more before the public health crisis.

Now law enforcement agencies throughout the county have asked for citizens to stay vigilant of the risks around COVID-19 scams, with the Franklin Police Department issuing a news release in which they said that door to door solicitation in Franklin is strictly regulated by a city ordinance.

FPD has asked Franklin residents to report suspected violations by calling (615) 794-2513.

Brentwood Police Department Detective Adrian Breedlove said in a phone call that victims can be targeted by a variety of schemes including the dating apps, FaceBook marketplace or Craigslist transactions, sometimes impersonating job recruiters or blackmailing victims in leu of payment through checks or gift cards.

"Anytime somebody texts or calls you from somewhere and asks you for your social security number, your bank routing number, your bank account number or your bank name, that's going to be a phishing scam," Breedlove said.

Breeedlove said that the best things that the public can do to prevent from becoming a victim of the growing number of scams is to hang up on robocalls and ignore any suspicious communications, adding that government agencies will never contact someone asking for money in the form of gift cards, checks or money orders.

He also said that the public should do online research about ongoing scams to keep up to date with ways that they could be targeted, adding that scam operations both domestically and internationally will continue to exploit people especially in times of stress and crisis such as the ongoing public health crisis.

In addition to the warnings from law enforcement, other groups such as the Council on Aging of Middle Tennessee in partnership with FiftyForward and Jewish Family Service, have also created an informational flier for older adults based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

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