Columbus, OH (December 15, 2020) – In the midst of the coronavirus outbreak, BBB has seen scams involving fake listings for masks, false government grants, as well as fake COVID-19 tests. As the pandemic continues to evolve, so do the scams.
BBB has received reports of three different COVID scams that are affecting consumers:
Clinical trial COVID scams:
You receive an unsolicited message via text, email, or social media. It explains that you may qualify for a COVID-19 study, which pays upwards of $1,000. One version received by BBB staff read: “Local Covid19 Study: Compensation up to $1,220! Qualify Here: [link removed] stop2stop.”
No matter how curious you are – or how much you could use an extra $1,200 – don’t click. It’s a scam. The phony message includes a link to see whether or not you qualify for the study. If you click it, you could unknowingly download malware onto your computer or phone. This virus can give scammers access to your usernames, passwords, and other personal information stored on your computer.
In other cases, the link may take you to a website that looks like a real clinical trial. You will be asked for personal information, such as government ID or bank account numbers. Real medical researchers would never ask for this information during the screening process.
BBB offers the following tips to avoid clinical trial scams:
.Look up the domain. Use lookup.icann.org to look up the URL. Look for warning signs such as a very recent registration date or registration in a foreign country.
.Think the trial is real? Find it on the official website. If you receive a message about a study and want to confirm whether it’s true, go directly to (or do a web search for) the organization’s website for further information. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Library of Medicine (NLM) also maintain ClinicalTrials.gov, a free searchable database of clinical studies on a wide range of diseases. If there is no government agency, university, or hospital mentioned, it’s likely a scam.
.Never pay to be part of a clinical trial. Real clinical trials will never ask you to pay them.
.Legitimate clinical trials do gather information about candidates – but not financial information. To screen for participants, a real study might ask for your name, contact information, age, gender, race, ethnicity, or various pre-existing medical conditions. But they should never ask you for information like your bank account details.
COVID contact tracing scams:
BBB has gotten reports of contact tracing scams being received by consumers via text, email or social media messenger. Consumers report that the message explains that the recipient has come into contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. The message instructs you to self-isolate and provides a link for more information. Alarmed, recipients are tempted to click and get more details. But don’t fall for it! These links can contain malware that will be downloaded to your device.
Another version of this scam involves a robocall claiming to be part of “contact and tracing efforts.” Again, the call informs you that you’ve been exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19. After electing to speak to a representative, the “contact tracer” asks you to verify personal information. This starts with questions about your full name and date of birth, but can quickly move to Personally Identifiable Information (PII) and/or financial accounts. While contact tracers do normally reach out by phone, be sure to hang up if the caller doesn’t meet the guidelines described below.
How to tell if communications are from a real contact tracer or from a scammer:
.Contact tracers will ask you to confirm your identity, but not for financial information. Tracers will ask you to confirm your name, address, and date of birth. In most cases, they will already have this information on file. They will also ask about your current health, medical history, and recent travels. They will not ask for any government ID numbers or bank account details.
.Contact tracers will identify themselves: The call should start with the tracer providing their name and identifying themself as calling from the department of health or another official team.
.Contact tracing is normally done by phone call. Be extra wary of social media messages or texts.
.A real contact tracer will never reveal the identity of the person who tested positive. If they provide a person’s name, you know it’s a scam.
.Think the link may be real? Double check the URL. Scammers often buy official-looking URLs to use in their cons. Be careful that the link is really what it pretends to be. If the message alleges to come from the local government, make sure the URL ends in .gov. When in doubt, perform a separate internet search for the website.
Mandatory COVID test scams:
The third COVID scam is where an individual receives a text message that looks like it comes from the US federal government, the US Department of Health and Human Services or other organizations. The message tells you that you must take a “mandatory online COVID-19 test” and has a link to a website. The red flag? COVID-19 tests can’t be taken online without submitting a sample, and the government isn’t ordering tests at this time.
No matter what the message says, don’t click. These texts are phishing for personal information. They also can download malware to your device, which opens you up to risk for identity theft.
Tips to Spot a COVID-19 Text Message Scam:
.Government agencies do not typically communicate through text messages. Go to the agency’s website yourself (without clicking on the link) to verify any activity you receive via text.
.Ignore instructions to text “STOP” or “NO” to prevent future texts. This is a common ploy by scammers to confirm they have a real, active phone number.
.If you think your text message is real, be sure it’s directing you to a web address like “agency.gov” or “agency.ca,” not “agency.otherwebsite.com.”
.Check for look-alikes. Be sure to do your research and see if a government agency or organization actually exists. Find contact info on your own and call them to be sure the person you’ve heard from is legitimate.
Check for more information on how to avoid scams and to report a scam, go to bbb.org BBB Scam Tracker.