HOUSTON – Texas officials are warning residents to be aware of COVID-19 scams that try to trick you out of your money or personal information.
U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick and Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan are reminding residents about scammers, who are using fear of the coronavirus as a way to steam and defraud from people via emails, texts, phone calls and in person.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner recently warned residents of scams where imposers get access to victims’ homes by pretending to be city Public Works employees, saying the home’s water lines had been poisoned with the coronavirus.
“Along the Gulf Coast we are well-practiced in disaster fraud,” Patrick said. “Anyone who lies, cheats or steals to receive federal benefits they would not otherwise get, will be prosecuted by my office.”
“It is unfortunate that bad people will use something like the coronavirus to commit crimes like this,” Ryan said. “This couple not only lost precious possessions. They could have been seriously hurt.”
Here are the following COVID-19 scams you should avoid:
- Some will try to sell you tests, miracle cures or treatments for the virus you can take at home — there is no such thing.
- Some will ask you for personal or financial information, such as your Medicare number — do not provide any such information.
- Sometimes they will claim to be from Medicare or Social Security and ask for your numbers — do not give out those numbers. The government already has your numbers and will never contact you in an email or by phone, only by letter.
- You do not need to pay a fee to the IRS in order to get your stimulus payment, as one scam tries to convince you.
- And some will try to get you to buy a hot new stock related to the virus — this is a scam.
Government agencies, including the FBI, the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Communications Commission, the Food and Drug Administration and the Securities and Exchange Commission, say they are all working to shut down scammers.
So far, the FDA’s Operation Quack Hack has shut down hundreds of websites and online marketplaces promoting certain products, including fraudulent drugs, testing kits and personal protective equipment sold online with unproven claims.
Attorney Ryan offers the following guidelines that will help you avoid being the victim of any scam:
- Never click on a link or attachment in an email or text from someone you don’t know.
- Never provide your personal information (address, date of birth, banking information, ID numbers) to people you do not know. Remember, government agencies will never ask you for personal information or money.
- Do not be pressured into making fast decisions.
- Take time to research a supposed charity organization. Look at its website and check it out with the Better Business Bureau.
In addition to the economic payment scams previously reported, several other fraudulent schemes involve masks, personal protection equipment and other COVID-19 related items, according to a press release. Patrick asks residents to have caution when dealing with new suppliers or vendors, especially when using a third-party broker.
Here are the following red flags that sellers may be engaging in a scam:
- Unusual payment terms
- Last-minute price changes
- Last-minute excuses for delay in shipment
- Unexplained source of a large quantity of material
- Evidence of re-packaging or mislabeling
How to report a scam
To report a scam or attempted scam related to COVID-19, you can call the office of the Harris County Attorney at 713-755-5101 or the National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721.
If it is a scam that comes through the internet, you can file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.
“This virus is bad enough without having to deal with crooks who will use it to obtain your money or personal information,” Ryan said. “Always be skeptical of people you don’t know reaching out to you for something. Do your due diligence. Don’t fall for their scams.”