10 Scams to Avoid During and After the Coronavirus Outbreak
Authored By: Montana Legal Services Association (MLSA)
Scammers have come up with several COVID-19 related scams. Below are 10 common scams to avoid during and after the 2020 Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Stay up to date about COVID-19 scams by visiting the Federal Trade Commission’s website.
1. Social Security Scams
The Social Security Office of the Inspector General has received reports that Social Security beneficiaries have received letters through the U.S. Mail stating their payments will be suspended or discontinued unless they call a phone number referenced in the letter. Scammers may then mislead beneficiaries into providing personal information or payment via retail gift cards, wire transfers, internet currency, or by mailing cash, to maintain regular benefit payments during this period of COVID-19 office closures. The Social Security Administration (SSA) will not suspend or discontinue benefits because their offices are closed. Social Security will not suspend or decrease Social Security benefit payments or Supplemental Security Income payments due to the current COVID-19 pandemic. Any communication you receive that says SSA will do so is a scam, whether you receive it by letter, text, email, or phone call.
The SSA will never:
- Threaten you with benefit suspension, arrest, or other legal action unless you pay a fine or fee
- Promise a benefit increase or other assistance in exchange for payment
- Require payment by retail gift card, case wire transfer, internet currency, or prepaid debit card
- Demand secrecy from you in handling a Social Security related problem
- Send official letters or reports containing personally identifiable information via mail
If you received a letter, text, call or email that you believe to be suspicious, about an alleged problem with your Social Security number, account, or payments, hang up or do not respond. If you are contacted by a SSA scammer, you can report it to the Social Security Administration.
2. Stimulus Check Scams
You may have heard in the news that the federal government will send money to some Americans to help with financial problems. Scammers may contact you pretending to be the government and ask you to pay fees to get a stimulus check. Scammers may also ask for your bank account information or credit card numbers and claim they will send a check from the government. The government will never ask you to pay a fee, up front taxes, delivery cost, or any money at all before you can get a stimulus check. The government will never call you and ask you for personal or financial information. Learn more about how to protect your stimulus check from scammers and debt collectors.
3. Help Filing for Unemployment Benefits Scams
If someone asks you to pay them in order to receive a set amount of money in unemployment benefits, it is probably a rip off. You may see ads or you may receive calls claiming that you will get more unemployment money if you pay someone to file an unemployment claim for you. This is a scam. You can file an unemployment claim yourself for free. You do not need to pay a filing fee to file for unemployment. Find information on filing for unemployment on this website.
4. Price Gouging Scams
Price-gouging is when someone claims they can sell you hard to find household or cleaning items at very high prices. Scammers may try to sell you hard to find products online. You will not get products even though you gave them money. If you are buying products online, always check the company reviews. It is a good idea to search the company online and make sure it is legitimate. You can file a complaint for price-gouging with the Montana Department of Justice.
5. Fake Cures
Scammers may sell a spray, pill, lotion, vaccine or other product claiming that it cures or prevents COVID-19. Check the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website to confirm if a cure or prevention exists. You should always check with your healthcare provider before taking any new medications.
6. Fake Emails from Health or Government Organizations
Scammers may pretend to be the CDC, World Health Organization, or other government agency to get your personal information. You may get an email asking for your information or telling you to open the documents in the email. Do not open those documents because they could install malware on your computer. Malware is a computer virus. The government will never ask you for personal information by email.
7. Debt Settlement and Debt Relief Companies
Debt settlement companies may tell you they can settle your credit card debts for much less than you owe. They won’t tell you that their fees are very high or that many major credit card companies refuse to work with debt settlement companies. This means you may be paying the debt settlement company, but the debt settlement company is not paying your credit card bill. You will end up owing more late fees and interest and your credit score will go down. Here is an article from the Federal Trade Commission about the risks of working with a debt settlement company.
8. Credit Report Repairs Scams
Some companies claim they can get negative items off of your credit report to improve your credit score. It is not possible to remove negative items from your credit report if the negative information is correct. If you think information on your credit report is wrong, you can use a simple letter to dispute the item to the credit reporting agency. You do not need to hire anyone to dispute something on your credit report. Find out how to fix problems on your credit report.
9. Student Loan Help Scams
Some companies charge high fees to help you apply for student loan relief programs like income driven repayment or public service loan forgiveness. Most people can apply for help with their student loans on their own. Check first with your loan servicer if you are having trouble paying your student loans. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has information about how to get help with student loans.
10. Work from Home Jobs Scams
Scammers may contact you and offer you a job working from home. Be wary if the employer claims you must buy products first and be reimbursed by the employer later. Employers may over promise how much money you can actually make especially if you have to buy products yourself.
If you think you are the victim of a scam or a rip off, here are some things you can do.
Check your Credit Report
- The law allows you to check your credit report once a year with each credit bureau.
File a Report
You can file a report by going to the following websites:
Make a Recovery Plan
- The Federal Trade Commission can help you come up with your own Identity Theft Recovery Plan.
Get Legal Help
- Montana Legal Services Association provides civil legal help to eligible clients, at no charge. Learn more about how to apply for free legal help.