A woman wearing a mask sells beauty products at a street stall in Washington Heights, Manhattan, New York City during the COVID-19 pandemic. – New York, NY / United States – May 16th 2020 (Shutterstock)
NEW YORK, NY – Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP) Commissioner Lorelei Salas today warned New Yorkers of scams related to COVID-19 to protect consumers’ identity and money.
“It is a sad reality that scammers often take advantage of people during times of crisis,” said DCWP Commissioner Lorelei Salas. “People are especially vulnerable right now and scammers will use that to their benefit. I urge everyone to think twice and do their research before giving away any personal or banking information. During difficult times like these, people cannot afford to be scammed out of their hard-earned money, especially when it comes to their vital stimulus checks.”
Scammers have come up with numerous ways to defraud people in connection with COVID-19. These scams may be phone calls, emails, text messages, or sometimes even in person. It is important to be aware of them and know what to do if you encounter one.
- Fake Government Calls/Emails/Texts. Beware of calls from scammers claiming to be from a government agency, such as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), NYS Department of Labor (NYSDOL), or a law enforcement agency, and asking for personal or banking information. Legitimate government agencies do not call unexpectedly asking for money, especially in the form of gift cards. Most payments can be done through their official websites. If the caller asks for personal information, make sure they can verify themselves first. If you are still unsure, hang up and call the official agency number.
- Charity Scams. Always do your research before donating to a charity organization or person setting up a GoFundMe page. Ask organizations what their registration number is—all legitimate charities must be registered with the New York Attorney General’s Charities Bureau. Never donate in cash, by gift card, or by wiring money. Report charity scams by filing a complaint at charitiesnys.com. If you’d like to help New Yorkers affected by COVID-19, visit nyc.gov/helpnow.
- Fake COVID-19 Treatment and Testing
- “Anti-COVID-19” Products and Medicines: Do not use products or medicines promoted as “anti-COVID-19” unless approved by a health care provider. These may be dangerous and fatal. There are currently no products proven to treat or prevent COVID-19. The only preventive measures for COVID-19 currently approved are social distancing and hand washing. Learn more about prevention and care from NYC Department of Health at on.nyc.gov/2yI55Ib.
- Home Test Kits: Ignore any online offers for vaccinations and home test kits for COVID-19. Report any you come across to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint. If someone unexpectedly knocks on your door claiming to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), or NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) to conduct a “COVID-19 test” – dial 911.
- Personal Protective Equipment Scams
- Beware of fake calls to your business requesting money for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). The caller may state that a manager had placed an order for PPE for the company and a money order is needed to be sent prior to delivery. Make sure to always check in with a manager or person in charge before sending any money.
- If you are making an online purchase for PPE, such as face masks, always buy from reputable stores and websites.
- Phishing Scams. Phishing emails, text messages, or social media posts often contain a link or ask you to provide personal information that can be used to commit fraud or identity theft.
- Always verify the email address or link before clicking or responding.
- If the caller claims to be from a government agency, make sure they can verify themselves first. If you are suspicious, go to the official website the sender claims to be from or call the official number to confirm the legitimacy of the email. If it seems like a scam, delete the email and file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) at fcc.gov/complaints.
- Unknown Callers and Robocalls. Scammers may call you or use illegal robocalls to pitch everything from scam COVID-19 treatments to work-at-home schemes.
- Beware of calls threatening to disconnect gas and electric services unless you pay immediately. The caller may use sophisticated phone systems that display the energy company’s name on the caller ID. This is a scam. When in doubt, you should hang up and call the customer service number located on your bill.
- If an unfamiliar number ever calls you, don’t pick up. Answering and pressing any keys may lead to more scam calls.
- Fake Money Deals. If a deal is too good to be true, it usually is. Beware of these ‘great deals’:
- Debt Relief Scams: If you receive a call claiming to offer debt relief, do not engage. The caller may say they can offer you a 50 percent settlement to help pay your debt and to contact them to take advantage of the offer. Hang up immediately and avoid answering any unknown calls. If you are facing financial hardship due to COVID-19, you can request debt collection agencies to stop contacting you about your existing debt. Download Cease Debt Collection Communication Letter: Instructions and Template. DCWP also encourages anyone struggling with debt to make an appointment for free financial counseling by phone. Learn more at nyc.gov/TalkMoney.
- Counterfeit Coupons: Beware of fake coupon deals circulating on social media. The coupon link may take you to a third-party site and ask for your personal information in order to receive the coupon. Legitimate businesses do not ask for any banking information in exchange for a coupon deal. Always go to the official business website to see if they are offering any coupons.
- Tax Loans: It is important to be careful when selecting a tax professional. While most preparers provide honest and high-quality service, some may mislead people into taking credits or deductions they aren’t entitled to claim. By promising a “bigger” refund, they will increase their fees and taxpayers will end up losing their money instead of gaining. Eligible New Yorkers can use NYC Free Tax Prep for trusted and professional filing. Learn more at nyc.gov/taxprep.
- Puppy Scams. With people obeying stay-at-home orders, many are looking into getting a pet. It is important that you research the website before making any purchases. Fraudulent pet sites may advertise animals that don’t exist and are never shipped. It is best practice to not buy a pet without seeing it in person. Be cautious of sending money through Western Union, MoneyGram, or a cash app like Zelle or a gift card. These payment methods offer no recourse and no way to get your money back if you are the victim of a fraud. Report any pet scams you come across to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at ftc.gov/complaint.
- Student Loan Scams. Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, federal student loan payments are automatically suspended, without interest or penalties, until September 30. Student loan holders with loans covered by the Act do not have to take any action to have them suspended. If you are contacted by someone claiming they can get you into the program faster or for free, it is a scam. If you are unsure whether your loan is covered by the Act, contact the loan servicer directly and ask. For more information and tips, read Student Loan Debt Tips During COVID-19 (available in multiple languages).