By David McClellan and Moe Meyers
Editor’s Note: This report about Covid-19 scam reports comes from Social Catfish, a reverse lookup search engine to find people. It was founded in 2013.
Coronavirus scam complaints have jumped as the pandemic continues to influence the nation, according to Federal Trade Commission data.
California had 5,211 coronavirus scam complaints in March, but in July 10,938 coronavirus scam reports were made. Florida had 3,240 March coronavirus scam complaints and now has 7,244 July complaints. Texas: 2,892 complaints in March; 6,427 complaints in July.
Back in March, scams were just starting to surface as the coronavirus was slowly spreading around the United States. However, since it’s been a few months, scammers have been able to get more creative and believable with their scams, making more people fall for them across the United States.
As more coronavirus cases appear all over the country, so do coronavirus scams and complaints of people who were desperate to get what they needed to prevent obtaining the virus as more shops and online stores sell out of essential goods.
Scammers realize the desperation of most Americans and pretend to reach out a hand to people with supplies they don’t really have, such as stimulus money or essential grocery items. They then steal people’s money without giving them what they promised. This is why stimulus check scams and coronavirus shopping scams have spread across the United States.
The Price Gouging Scam
The price-gouging scam is when a retailer marks the original price of an essential good item up by a lot, knowing that there is limited stock on the item and people are desperate to obtain this item so they will buy it anyways. For example, someone in San Diego reported that toilet paper was selling for $15 at her local drugstore.
The law varies state by state on what defines price gouging, so for the purpose of this article, we will go by the California Penal Code. This code states that there has to be a declared emergency and prices have to jump up 10% to be defined as price gouging.
The District Attorney of San Diego stated that they determine the level of crime by comparing the price of the item before the coronavirus versus what the price is now. They then let the business know that they are price gouging which is illegal, and most businesses usually comply. Some store owners claim that the price came from the manufacturer or distributor itself.
The Department of Justice is on the lookout for people who have mass quantities of essential supplies either beyond the limit of normal use, or those looking to make a profit off of it. Amazon has had to remove half a million items for sale on its website due to price gouging and has suspended 6,000 accounts.
To file a complaint in California, go to oag.ca.gov/report.
Undelivered Goods Scam
The undelivered goods scam is when scammers sell essential goods online and allow people to purchase them. The buyer then puts in their financial information and purchases the product, but yet doesn’t receive the said product.
The scammer then takes the money that was used to purchase the product and doesn’t send anything in return, stealing the purchaser’s funds.
Shipping Time-Limit: Because of this scam, sellers are obliged by law to either give you an estimated shipping date or to ship your products out to you within 30 days.
There is an exception for customers who opened a credit card account in order to purchase a product, which gives sellers a 50-day window to ship your product.
Delay: If there is a delay in the expected shipping date, the company you purchased the product from must notify you. If the delay is 30 days or less with no response from you, that means you accept the delay of your item.
If the delay is more than 30 days with no response from you, then the item must be canceled and the money must be refunded back to your account. If the company can not meet the revised date, it must notify you again.
Free Groceries Scam
Scammers text their victims telling them that they just won free groceries from Costco at a $130 value. All the customers need to do is give scammers their personal information, and they will supposedly get free Costco groceries at their doorstep.
In reality, the scammer takes this personal information and uses it to commit identity theft, stealing money from these innocent victims. They don’t ever receive their promised groceries, just an empty bank account.
Fake Cure Scam
There have been many people selling fake cures for the coronavirus, and companies saying that their products help with COVID-19 when they don’t.
These products range from colloidal silver, essential oils, gels, etc. that they claim work with the coronavirus. These are false claims made so that they can take your money for themselves.
The FDA can pursue criminal persecution on companies on the list if they don’t stop advertising their products as cures to the coronavirus. There is no known cure for this global pandemic yet, and if there was the government would announce it on their future websites.
Robocall Check Scams
The scammer will call you pretending to be the IRS, and ask for your personal and financial information. They will claim they need this information to deposit the stimulus check into your account, and will also ask for a fee to deposit said check.
In reality, they want your information so that they can pretend to be you and claim the check for themselves. They can also drain your bank account of your funds with this information and will keep the fee for themselves with no check, in return.
Scammers will pretend to be the IRS or federal government emailing you with fake “information” on how to get your stimulus check. They will also provide a link for you to click on so that you can provide them with your personal and financial information to get your so-called check.
Once you click on the link, your device then gets plagued with malware and your information gets stolen. With this information, they can then either pretend to be you and steal your check or steal the funds from your bank account.
You will get a text from the “federal government” saying that you qualify for the government’s coronavirus stimulus check. It will then provide you with a link that requests more information so that the government can provide you with this check.
Once you click on the link, it will plague your mobile device with malware and the scammer will steal your information. They can then use this information to pretend to be you to get your stimulus check or drain your bank account of money.
For updates on economic impact payments, see www.irs.gov/coronavirus
Identity Theft Scams
If you haven’t received your stimulus check yet the official IRS website says otherwise, it could be possible that you are a victim of identity theft. This means that a scammer has found a way to steal your information, like your SSN, and has claimed your stimulus check for themselves.
The scammer could’ve gotten your information in numerous ways, such as through an email, phone call, text, external link, etc. If you believe to have been a victim of this kind of fraud, you can report it here.
Google Search Scams
Scammers have created copies of the official IRS “Get My Payment” site and have updated their search engine terms so that people can search for their sites easier on Google.
Once a person finds their site, they think it’s the official IRS website and will enter their information. The scammers can then install malware on their devices and steal their information to obtain the victim’s stimulus check, or steal their bank account information.
Third-Party Stimulus Check Scams
Scammers have come up with their own stimulus check programs claiming that they can give you additional money along with the government.
They will send you letters in the mail, put pamphlets on your car, or send you an email or social media message trying to advertise their program. This happened to a man in Florida who claimed to have gotten an official-looking check of $3,000 mailed to him with a letter when really it was a fake check.
Another example of this is a Costco relief program, claiming to help with groceries and money during this time.
Knowing who will get the stimulus check and how is a beneficial way to know that you can prevent yourself from getting scammed. The IRS will not call you or tell you another way to get the stimulus check, only scammers will do so.
To file a complaint, go to oag.ca.gov/report.
How To Avoid Scams
Shopping Coronavirus Scams
- Research the company’s reputation before ordering. This will allow you to see if they will scam you with pricing or not delivering your product. If they have good reviews and deliver everything with no hassle, you are good to shop there.
- Make sure you get a shipment date. This will give you peace of mind that your product will deliver by that particular date. If the product doesn’t get to you by that date, you also know to contact the company and ask where your package is.
- Keep the receipt of the product you bought. This will allow for the company to pull up your records to see how much you bought the product for and where your package is. You can also use this to report the company if they are scamming you.
- Track your purchases if bought online. This will show you where your product is so that you can worry less when waiting for your package.
- Be careful when buying cleaning, household, health, or medical supplies. These are the items that have been most involved with price gouging and undelivered goods scams.
- Shop at big-name stores you trust. When shopping at a trusted store, it is least likely that you’ll run into any coronavirus shopping scams.
- Plan to buy a product ahead of time versus when you’re starting to run out of the product. This will allow you to compare products and think about prices before purchasing the product so that you can ensure you have the best deal. This will also allow you to become less desperate and avoid scammers when shopping for your desired product.
- Compare the prices of the product at different stores or online shopping websites. This will allow you to get the best price on the product you are purchasing.
- Discourage people from hoarding products. This will allow for products to come back in stock quicker, and for price gouging scams to simmer down since the product would be more accessible.
- Report any price gouging or undelivered goods to the FTC. This will allow businesses and scammers to stop what they are doing before criminal action is enacted against them.
Stimulus Check Coronavirus Scams
- Don’t give out any personal information. The government has your personal information on file from when you filed your taxes. This means that your check will either be automatically deposited into your account or you will get it mailed to your house. If the “IRS” is claiming to need more information, then they aren’t really the IRS.
- Don’t click on any suspicious links emailed or texted to you. Again, your check should come to you automatically once they are printed out and ready to go. You don’t need to click on a website to “verify” anything since the government already has your information.
- Don’t go on any website to get your stimulus check. Unless it is an official “.gov” or “.ca” website and a news source is redirecting you there with accurate information, then it is probably a scam website trying to give a virus to your computer instead of your body. Either that, or they are trying to get you to provide personal information on this website, and as you’ve read with tip number one you should never do that.
- Only believe in the stimulus check programs announced on the news. Like previously mentioned, if you didn’t hear the information directly from a news source then it is probably fake news. The government would not be hiding a secret agenda from you or its citizens when it comes to the stimulus check. They will send it to you automatically based on the information they have on you.
- Don’t believe that the IRS is actually contacting you. The IRS or government will not contact you about the stimulus check, they will either just mail you the check or direct deposit it into your bank account.
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