During the early onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Federal Trade Commission picked up on a troubling trend – an increase in COVID-19 related fraud and phishing schemes. Messages seemingly related to public health warnings, and federal stimulus checks for individuals, among other topics that were front of mind for everyone in 2020, came pouring in from less-than-reputable sources. By April 2020 alone, Americans had lost an estimated $13.4 million to the scams.
In 2021, COVID-19 activity scams continue, with messages that include trading personally identifiable information and Medicare information in exchange for COVID-19 tests and federal grants. Mediums for reaching people are varied as well with attempts to access information coming in via telemarketing calls, text messages, social media platforms and even door-to-door visits.
The following are some reminders about how to keep your sensitive information safe and signs that a request related to COVID-19 relief may not be legitimate.
Guidance for Individuals
Several of the phishing and scams circulating are designed to pilfer information from individuals, particularly medical data. These may include schemes related to the following:
Some schemes have claimed to sell COVID-19 vaccination cards. Legitimate testing sites will not require vaccine cards – they are seeking legitimate forms of government-issued identification. You will be asked to provide this identification information when receiving the vaccine from a designated facility, not over the phone.
COVID-19 Treatments and Testing
Do not respond to any emails or text messages related to COVID-19 treatments or testing opportunities from senders you do not know. When making appointments, verify you are going through the authorized provider’s website to submit your contact information.
Legitimate contact tracers do not need your Medicare number or any of your financial information. Be wary of anyone that offers (with advance payment) to set up a COVID-19 test on your behalf.
One item to watch for, particularly leading up to the next round of COVID-19 stimulus rebate checks are scam artists claiming there’s been an issue related to the issuance of your check. The IRS, as a reminder, does not call. The fact that it is tax season may also mean that there are scams running related to filing deadlines and overdue tax payments occurring at the same time.
Another troubling development is a scam that affects both individuals and businesses related to unemployment benefits. Some states have reported cases of fraudulent COVID-19 unemployment insurance being marketed to individuals downsized because of the pandemic disruption. These fraudulent groups are charging filing fees. Other scams involve telling unemployment recipients that they are eligible for cash prizes or other benefits for applying for unemployment. For employees, submitting unemployment claims to the wrong agency could prohibit receiving legitimate claims for unemployment.
Employers can help stem the tide of these unemployment scams by clearly laying out the process for accessing COBRA and other benefits to employees who have been terminated from the company.
Other scams are targeting specific types of businesses or pretending to offer services on behalf of businesses. For example, fraudulent medical labs have been offering to draw blood for COVID-19 tests for assisted living and retirement communities. The Department of Health and Human Services has uncovered instances where these fraudulent medical labs are charging the federal health care programs for unnecessary medical services when providing this service.
Guidance for Businesses
Because email phishing continues to be a prominent way that hackers can gain access to sensitive data and systems, be sure that employees are being vigilant about what links they click while connected to virtual private networks (VPNs). Require multi-factor authentication tools whenever possible to protect communication platforms and double check that firewalls are functioning correctly.
Reporting COVID-19 Scams
If any of your employees or your business fall victim to a coronavirus related scam, report it online to the Federal Trade Commission.
For more information about cybersecurity measures that may be able to help protect your organization, contact a member of our team.
Published on March 16, 2021