12 Tips from Top Feds to Avoid Fraud During the Pandemic

A dozen federal officials offer advice to outsmart coronavirus scammers
by Katherine Skiba, AARP, June 17, 2020 | Comments: 0

Twelve top scam fighters from the federal government participated in AARP’s “Slam the Scam: Coronavirus Edition” webinar. Here is a selection of tips from the fraud experts. Register for free to watch the full webinar.

“Some bad actors are trying to take advantage of the COVID-19 emergency and they’ve become extremely creative. For example, we’ve seen fraudulent offers for free COVID-19 testing, test kits or protective gear — through robocalls, websites or social media. These individuals or groups have no intent of delivering the [products and] services they claim to offer.”
— Kimberly Brandt, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

Do not give out your Medicare number “to anyone other than your doctor, health care provider or other trusted representative. Be cautious of unsolicited contacts — via phone, email or at your door — offering free coronavirus testing, treatment or supplies.”
—Marissa Whitehouse, Senior Medicare Patrol, U.S. Administration for Community Living

“Social Security benefits are still being paid and are not affected by the pandemic. Social Security will not call you unsolicited to request information or payment for any reason related to coronavirus or Social Security office closures.”
—Tracy Lynge, Social Security Administration Office of the Inspector General

“The United States census will never ask you for your full Social Security number, bank account or credit-card information, and will not ask you to pay to be counted in the 2020 census.”
—Zach Schwartz, U.S. Census Bureau

“Ensure that you have strong passwords on your most critical internet accounts. Avoid clicking on any suspicious links or web pages, especially when you’re surfing the web. Phishing scams can happen at any time. I urge you to take caution with any electronic form of communication that has COVID-19 in the subject line, or on the attachment, or on the links.”
—Bryan Ware, U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency

“The IRS will not call you, text you or email you and ask you for your personal identifying or financial information to assist you with getting your economic impact payment. Anyone who calls you and claims to be from the IRS and offers to process your economic impact payment is impersonating the IRS.”
—James Jackson, U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration

“Be wary of phone calls, or emails, from individuals who claim to represent official health organizations like the World Health Organization or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These organizations will never demand payment from you over the phone or require you to provide personal identifying information.”
—Nicole Gray Davis, U.S. Postal Inspection Service

“We are committed to outreach to seniors to warn them of fraud schemes and to let them know not to give information, money or otherwise engage with anyone they do not know — by phone or by mail.
With every case [prosecuted], DOJ seeks to send a message to the fraudsters that we will not tolerate fraud against our seniors. We need your help to send this message.”
—Sheri Mecklenburg, U.S. Department of Justice

“Ignore online offers for coronavirus vaccinations and [at-] home test kits. You see ads touting prevention, treatment or cure claims for COVID-19 stuff, but if there’s a medical breakthrough, you’re not going to hear about it the first time through an ad or sales pitch.
“And make sure the anti-malware and antivirus software on your computer is up to date.”
—Colleen Tressler, Federal Trade Commission

“If someone you don’t know offers to help you [buy groceries, prescriptions or supplies], be wary. Some scammers offer to buy supplies, but never return with the goods — or your money. Use an established delivery service or order directly from the store. Many grocery stores and pharmacies are offering contactless delivery.
“If you need additional help, the [government’s] Eldercare Locator can connect you to services for older adults and their families. Visit the Eldercare Locator or call 1-800-677-1116.”
—Michael Herndon, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

“The FCC continues to advise consumers to not answer calls from numbers they don’t recognize [and] to talk to your [telecom] service provider about call-blocking options, and to be suspicious of text-message offers. Please don’t click on links in a text sent from an unknown sender.”
—Lyle Ishida, Federal Communications Commission

“Impersonation scams are on the rise. For instance, one of the scams we’ve seen has to do with the grandparent scam, where a criminal will tell you that they’re your grandchild, maybe overseas and in trouble — perhaps in the hospital with coronavirus — and they’ll ask you to send money for help. This is a very common scam, so please be careful of that.”
—Steven Merrill, FBI

AARP’s Fraud Watch Network can help you spot and avoid scams. Sign up for free “watchdog alerts,” review our scam-tracking map, or call our toll-free fraud helpline at 877-908-3360 if you or a loved one suspect you’ve been a victim.
More on Scams and Fraud
• Secret Service warns of rise in scams related to coronavirus
• Phishing scams and work-from-home schemes may rise during pandemic
• 6 pyschological tricks used by COVID-19 scammers