COVID-19

Scams & Fraud

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

Whenever there is a health crisis, scammers quickly find ways to cheat people out of money. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, scammers are still at work. They’re cheating, stealing personal information and selling things that don’t work or should actually be free. Scammers use robocalls, social media, phishing emails and other ways to take advantage of people’s fears, anxieties, and confusion around COVID-19.

Misinformation is often used to trick people into falling for a COVID-19 scam. When you hear something new about COVID-19, ask yourself these questions to check if the information is trustworthy:

  1. How does it make me feel? If the information evokes strong feelings, like anger, fear, or anxiety, it may be a scam. Focus on the facts. Misinformation is heavy on emotion and light on facts.
  2. Does the information seem vague or incomplete? Are there missing pieces to the story? Look for complete details. Be sure the author provides proof and explains how they came to their conclusion. Examples of trustworthy websites include those that end with “.edu” or “.gov”.
  3. What are reputable sources saying about the issue? Has the CDC or the World Health Organization made a statement about the issue? Go directly to CDC’s COVID-19 website and WHO’s COVID-19 website to get the latest information. Learn about some common vaccine myths and facts on the VaccinateLAcounty.com webpage.
  4. Is someone trying to sell me something or asking for my personal information? This is almost always a red flag, a warning sign or signal that something might be a scam. Read below for examples of COVID-19 scams and fraud.

For more information, see Spotting Misinformation.

Look out for these red flags to protect yourself, your family, and community from COVID-19 scams.

COVID-19 VACCINE SCAMS AND FRAUD

     Being charged to receive the vaccine.

    • Vaccines are free for everyone in the US, regardless of immigration status. You don't need to have insurance. Vaccines are widely available throughout Los Angeles County. No appointment is needed at many locations and you will not be asked about your immigration status. In-home vaccination is available to people with mobility issues.
    • Learn more at VaccinateLACounty.com or call the DPH Vaccine Call Center at 1-833-540-0473.

     Being offered ‘the vaccine’ that will be sent directly to your home.

    • COVID-19 vaccines must be given by a licensed healthcare provider. Anything that is sent to you will not be a real vaccine.

     Receiving phone calls, texts, or emails demanding personal information in order to receive a vaccine or cash prize.

    • Do not respond to someone who asks you to respond immediately with your personal information, like a social security, bank account, or credit card number.

     Being sold a COVID-19 vaccination record.

    • Do not click on links you do not recognize or trust a website that offers proof of vaccination in exchange for money. You should never have to pay for a copy of your COVID-19 vaccination record.
    • Everyone who is vaccinated in California can request a free digital COVID-19 Vaccination Record. Visit myvaccinerecord.cph.ca.gov. To learn more, visit the vaccine records webpage at VaccinateLAcounty.com.

COVID-19 TESTING SCAMS AND FRAUD

Being charged for a COVID-19 test
  • You should not have any out-of-pocket costs for a COVID-19 test. Both public and private medical insurance companies are required to cover the cost of COVID-19 testing and treatment without charging any copays.
  • Testing for COVID-19 is available for free to anyone in Los Angeles County, regardless of immigration status. If you are sick or concerned about COVID-19 talk to your doctor. If you need help finding a doctor, the 24/7 LA County information line can help - call 2-1-1 or visit the 211LA website. You can also get a free test by visiting covid19.lacounty.gov/testing.
  • If you are uninsured, you can get free testing and treatment. You may also qualify for My Health LA (MHLA), a health care program for low-income LA County residents. Call 1-844-744-6452 or visit MHLA’s website for more information. You can also call 2-1-1 for help finding healthcare.
  • If you are looking for a place to take your children for COVID-19 testing, review this list of testing resources for children.
Being told that getting an official test or treatment will affect your immigration status
  • Getting tested or treated for COVID-19 or getting a COVID-19 vaccine will NOT affect your immigration status. COVID-19 testing and care services are not a public benefit under the public charge rule.
  • Your medical information is confidential. Your doctor is not allowed to share it with immigration officials.
  • For updates on COVID-19 for immigrant residents, visit the Los Angeles County Office of Immigrant Affairs COVID-19 page.
Finding a home test kit for sale on the street or door-to-door
  • In one reported scam an imposter posed as an American Red Cross volunteer going door-to-door offering home COVID-19 testing. They were really trying to gain entry and rob residents.
 Being sold an unauthorized or fake test kit online.
  • Before you buy a test kit online, check the website that is selling it. Find out if the test is authorized here. Learn about at-home COVID-19 testing, visit the CDC self-testing webpage or FDA’s At-Home Tests.
 Being sold fake or counterfeit test results.
  • Public events, businesses, and community places may require proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test before you can enter.
  • The only valid way to get proof that you’re vaccinated—or that you test negative—is to GET vaccinated or to TEST negative.

FAKE TREATMENTS AND MIRACLE CURES

Seeing advertisements and promotions for supplements and “treatments” to prevent or cure COVID-19
  • Vitamins or minerals or other dietary supplements have not been proven to prevent or cure COVID-19. In fact, the FDA has issued warning letters to many companies for selling products that claim to prevent, treat, or cure this infection.
  • Scammers sell fake vaccines or “miracle cures” and promote unproven treatments on the internet and social media. Buying questionable and untested products may cause serious harm and waste your money.
  • Always consult a doctor or other licensed healthcare provider before taking any medicine or health product. For help finding healthcare, call 2-1-1 or visit the 211 website.
Being asked to pay to enroll in a clinical trial
  • Scientists conduct clinical trials to find out if a vaccine or treatment is safe and effective. If you want to volunteer for a clinical trial on COVID-19 vaccines or treatment, you can get information on the COVID-19 Prevention Network (CoVPN) webpage.
  • Typically, people do not have to pay to take part in clinical trials. Expenses are covered as part of the clinical trial and researchers have to follow strict rules that include measures to protect the participants.
  • Visit this FDA webpage to learn more about clinical trials and check the DPH Guidance on Clinical Trials here.

GOVERNMENT PAYMENT SCAMS

Being asked to provide information or money before receiving a stimulus check or other government help
  • The government will NOT ask you to pay money in advance to receive your Federal stimulus check, unemployment insurance payment, or social security monthly payment.
  • The government will not ask for your social security number or credit card or bank information (such as your bank routing number).
  • The IRS or other government agencies will not contact you by email or telephone.
  • You do not need to pay for help to fill out paperwork.
  • Learn more here about how to avoid being scammed out of your government payment.
  • If you need help getting these benefits or finding resources, visit the Los Angeles County Disaster Help Center or call 1-833-238-4450 to speak to a counselor.

PRICE GOUGING

Being overcharged for basics
  • It is illegal for businesses to raise their prices too much during a state of emergency, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. This is called price gouging, and it is a crime in California.
    • Businesses are not usually allowed to charge more than 10% above the usual price for essential goods and services, such as housing, food, and emergency supplies like water, flashlights, radios, batteries, blankets, soap, diapers, building materials and tools, repair and reconstruction services, and medical supplies like medications, bandages, and antibacterial products.
    • To report price gouging and get help recovering your money, visit the Los Angeles County price gouging webpage.

FAKE “HELPERS”

Being offered help with errands and deliveries by a stranger

Scammers are offering to help you with deliveries or errands and then running off with your money.

  • If you have to stay home, have essential supplies like food and medicines delivered by a trusted friend or well-known service. Many grocery stores and pharmacies offer free delivery.
  • Several programs deliver free meals daily. Sign up for free food and meals delivery at LA County’s Food Resources page or the Senior Meals Emergency Response Program or call the program at 1-800-510-2020. For more options, visit 211LA or call 2-1-1.
Being offered a list of available jobs - for a price
  • Don’t pay for job "opportunities". Scammers know a lot of people are looking for work now. They take advantage of your need, and try to cheat you out of your money. They may call or text you or use online advertisements promising ways to earn money online or work from home schemes.
  • Do your research before you sign up - and don't pay for the chance to work.
Being offered mortgage or rent relief – for a price
  • Never pay up front for mortgage help. It's illegal for companies to charge you before they help you with your mortgage - but that doesn't stop scammers from trying.
  • If you have fallen behind on your mortgage, get help for free from LA County's Department of Consumer and Business Affairs. Check out their Foreclosure Prevention services here.
  • If you are a renter and need help paying your rent, find out about LA County's 2021 Rent Relief Program here.
  • If you are unable to pay your mortgage or rent and think you might be at risk of foreclosure or eviction, you can get legal assistance for free at LA Represents. They provide help to anyone in Los Angeles who is facing extreme hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

FAKE CHARITIES

Many people want to help others in the community who are suffering during the pandemic. Unfortunately, people who want to help can be taken advantage of by crafty scammers.
Being asked to contribute to a fake charity
  • Do your homework when it comes to donations.
  • Don’t let anyone rush you into making a donation or pressure you to donate via wire transfer or cash.
  • Check if the charity is legitimate before making a donation. If you are not sure, you can search the CA Attorney General’s Registry of Charitable Trusts.
  • Get additional tips on donating wisely at ftc.gov/charity.

IDENTITY THEFT

Scammers are using the COVID-19 pandemic to try to steal insurance numbers, personal information, and money. If anyone contacts you asking for your insurance number, Social Security number, or other personal information in exchange for something, it’s most likely a scam.

Older adults are especially vulnerable because scammers take advantage of their loneliness, ease of trust, savings, and challenges with technology. Senior Living explains the latest COVID-19 scams aimed at older adults and how to prevent them, as well as tips for senior-friendly technology.  The California’s Department of Aging has information on issues faced by older Californians including scam warnings. Sign up for Fraud Watch emails from the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).

Being asked to provide personal information
  • Never provide personally identifiable information (medical insurance, social security, bank account, or credit card number) in response to an unsolicited (uninvited or unknown) contact.
  • Guard your Medicare or Medi-Cal card. Learn about medical identity theft here

Remember, government agencies will:

  • Never contact you for your number or other personal information unless you’ve given them permission in advance.
  • Never call you to sell you anything.
  • Never visit you at your home.

Check information from your health insurance company, Medi-Cal, or Medicare for signs of billing fraud. Review your explanation of benefits, claims statements, and summary notices for any services that you don’t recognize.

Here are a few more tips to prevent Medicare fraud.

There have been many reports of COVID-19 scams involving Social Security.

  • Ignore any calls, letters, emails, or texts offering to increase your benefits if you provide a payment. Social Security will NEVER offer a benefit increase in exchange for payment.

Visit the Social Security Administration’s website for updates about COVID-19 scams.

CONTACT TRACING AND PHISHING SCAMS

Receiving robocalls and emails from a “government agency”
  • Protect yourself. Do not click on links or respond to an e-mail or text that you do not recognize. They may be promoting scams or contain viruses or malware that can damage your computer or steal your information.
Contact tracing scams
  • People pretending they are doing contact tracing for COVID-19 may call, visit, write, or email and try to get information or money from you.
  • The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health is calling, emailing and writing to people who have COVID-19 and people who they may have been in contact with, but rest assured they will NEVER request a social security number or financial information, or ask for money. They will never ask about immigration status.
  • Calls from Public Health will show “LA PublicHealth” or 1-833-641-0305 on the caller ID.  If you get a call or a message from Public Health, please respond or call back to help us to control the spread of COVID-19 in Los Angeles County.

REPORT A SCAM AND GET HELP

What to do if you've been scammed

If you’ve already paid someone or given personal information to a scammer, here is what to do next:

  • Act quickly. If you think you’ve sent money to a scammer or government impersonator, contact the bank, gift card, or credit card company you used to send the money. Tell them that it was a fraudulent transaction. Then ask them to reverse it and give you your money back.
  • If you sent a wire transfer through a company like Western Union or MoneyGram, contact the wire transfer company. Tell them it was a fraudulent transfer. Ask them to reverse the wire transfer and give you your money back.
    • MoneyGram: 1-800-MONEYGRAM (1-800-66-3947)
    • Western Union: 1-800-325-6000
  • If you sent cash, chances are it’s gone. You can try to get it back by contacting the U.S. Postal Inspection Service at 1-877-876-2455 and ask them to intercept the package. To learn more about this process, visit USPS Package Intercept: The Basics. If you used another delivery service, contact them.
  • If you gave the scammer your Social Security or Medicare number, go to IdentityTheft.gov to see what steps to take and how to monitor your credit.
  • If you gave the scammer your username and password, create a new, strong password. If you use the same password anywhere else, change it there, too. Learn more ways to protect your personal information at the FTC’s personal data protection webpage.
How to report a scam
  • Report a possible COVID-19 scam and get help trying to get your money back: contact the LA County Department of Consumer and Business Affairs: dcba.lacounty.gov or 1-800-593-8222.
  • Report suspicious claims being made about testing or treatment products: report to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint
Find Services
  • Find resources like healthcare, food, medicines, and other essential supplies: call 2-1-1, visit the 211LA website, or the Public Health resource page.
  • Call the Disaster Help Center: Multiple county and state agencies have partnered to create the Disaster Help Center to assist business owners, workers, non-profits, landlords, and renters access important resources during the COVID-19 pandemic. Counselors speak multiple languages and are available by phone 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. M-F and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays, to help you find the resources right for your situation.
  • Contact the Help Center: Call: 1-833-238-4450, Visit: LACountyHelpCenter.org.

BE INFORMED

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