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. During the coronavirus pandemic, scammers are using robocalls, social media posts, and emails to take advantage of fear, anxiety, and confusion about COVID-19. Criminals are selling things that don’t work, charging money for things that are free, and stealing personal information.

A RED FLAG is a warning sign or signal that something might be a scam. Look out for these red flags to protect yourself, your family, and community from coronavirus scams.

HAND SANITIZER WARNING Return to Top

WARNING: Dangerous hand sanitizer products!

Some hand sanitizers should not be used because they may:

  • Contain methanol (wood alcohol). Methanol can cause serious health problems such as blindness, and even death.
  • Not have enough alcohol in them to work properly.
  • Be contaminated with germs.

CHECK YOUR HAND SANITIZER

The FDA advises consumers not to use over 100 different hand sanitizers made by more than 20 companies. Check the label on your hand sanitizer. If the manufacturer’s name or product name is on this FDA list, stop using it immediately. Double check all your hand sanitizers.

More Hand Sanitizer Safety Tips:

  • Avoid products that say “FDA-approved” on the label – there are no hand sanitizers approved by the FDA.
  • Seek immediate medical attention if you have swallowed hand sanitizer or are experiencing symptoms after repeated use of these products on your skin and contact your poison center (1-800-222-1222) for advice.
  • Signs and symptoms of methanol poisoning include headache, blurred vision or blindness, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, loss of coordination, and decreased alertness.
  • Keep hand sanitizers out of the reach of children and supervise their use.
  • Do not swallow hand sanitizers
  • Only use alcohol-based hand sanitizers or rubs for their intended purpose – to clean hands.
  • For more information, see the FDA’s consumer warning letter which is available in English and Spanish.

COVID-19 TESTING SCAMS

You are asked to pay for a COVID-19 test
  • You should not have any out-of-pocket costs for a COVID-19 test. Federal law requires public and private medical insurance companies to cover the cost of COVID-19 testing and treatment without charging patients any copays. If you want to get tested because you feel sick or have been exposed to someone who has COVID-19, contact your doctor to request a test.
  • Testing for coronavirus 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 211 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 (844) 744-6452 or visit MHLA’s website for more information. You can also call 2-1-1 for help finding healthcare.
You are told that getting an official test or treatment will affect your immigration status
  • Getting tested or treated for coronavirus 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.
You are offered a blood test to see if you are currently infected with COVID-19
  • You may have heard about blood tests for COVID-19. These are known as serology or antibody tests. They can show if you have had COVID-19 infection in the past. Serology tests should not be used on their own to tell if you are currently infected with COVID-19. You need another test for that, such as a swab test.
  • Unfortunately there have been problems with serology tests and some of them are not reliable.
  • If the test is wrong, you may think that you have had COVID-19 in the past, when you actually haven’t. Even if the test is right, and it shows that you really do have antibodies, it is not yet known if you can get infected again or not.
  • If you are offered a COVID-19 blood test, ask questions, and make sure that your doctor explains what the test result does and does not mean. See our guidance on Coronavirus serology antibody testing to learn more.
You are offered a test that claims to be “FDA approved”
  • Currently, there are no tests that have been approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) to diagnose COVID-19. Some tests have an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA), but companies are not allowed to say that a test is FDA approved.
  • Learn about COVID-19 testing here.
You are sold a home test kit on the street or door-to-door
  • As of June 3, 2020, home test kits are only available with a doctor’s order and they are delivered to patients by mail.
  • 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.

FAKE TREATMENTS AND MIRACLE CURES Return to Top

You see advertisements and promotions for supplements and “treatments” to prevent or cure COVID-19
  • Scammers sell fake vaccines and “miracle cures” and promote unproven treatments on the internet and social media.
  • Vitamins or minerals or other dietary supplements do not prevent or treat COVID-19.
  • Be wary of anyone peddling any type of medical miracle or secret vaccine for COVID-19. Using questionable and untested products will cost you money and may cause serious harm.

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.

You are offered or sold a place on a vaccine waiting list
  • There is no vaccine available to prevent COVID-19. There is no waiting list for a future vaccine and you cannot pay to be put on a fast track to receive a future vaccine.
  • When a vaccine becomes available, your healthcare provider will tell you.
  • If someone tries to sell you a place in line or an opportunity to “invest” in a cure or vaccine for COVID-19, it is a scam.

STIMULUS CHECK SCAMS Return to Top

You are 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 stimulus check.
  • If you need help getting these benefits or finding resources, visit the Los Angeles County Disaster Help Center or call (833) 238-4450 to speak to a counselor.

PRICE GOUGING Return to Top

You are overcharged for basics
  • It is illegal for businesses to raise their prices too much during and after the coronavirus health emergency. This is called price gouging, and it is a crime in California.
    • Price gouging is being asked to pay 10% or more 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 Los Angeles County’s COVID-19 information page.

FAKE “HELPERS” Return to Top

You are offered help with errands and deliveries while you are at home during COVID-19

Scammers are offering to help with errands and running off with your money.

  • Have essential supplies like food and medicines delivered to you by a trusted friend or neighbor, arrange for delivery with a well-known company, or use one of the free services below.
  • Know who you’re buying from. Online sellers may claim to have in-demand products, like cleaning and medical supplies when they really don’t. Order directly from the store or pharmacy, and ask about free delivery.
  • Learn about free and low-cost options. You can get free deliveries through LA County’s Critical Service Delivery Program, call (888) 863-7411.
  • Several programs are delivering free meals daily. Enroll in LA County’s Great Plates Delivered Program, or the City’s Senior Meals Program online or by calling (800) 510-2020.
  • Find out about options in your area by visiting the Public Health resource page or 211LA, or calling 2-1-1.

FAKE CHARITIES Return to Top

Many people want to help others in the community who are suffering and may have lost their jobs due to coronavirus. Unfortunately, people who want to help can be taken advantage of by crafty scammers.
You are 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 Return to Top

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 offers some ideas about how to prevent them, as well as tips for senior-friendly technology.  The California’s Department of Aging has information on many issues faced by older Californians including warnings about scams. You can also sign up for Fraud Watch emails from the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).

You are asked to provide personal information without explanation
  • Never provide personally identifiable information such as your medical insurance, social security, bank account, or credit card number, over the telephone or by email or text or 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, except for 2020 Census workers. Click here to learn more about the census.
  • Medicare and Medi-Cal can’t enroll you over the phone unless you called them first.

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.

  • Know that Social Security benefit payments will NOT be put on hold or stopped because of COVID-19 office closures.
  • 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 coronavirus scams.

  • Telemedicine: if someone contacts you about having a doctor’s appointment over the internet, be cautious. Call your insurance company or your health care provider to find out about telemedicine options (such as phone or video calls) to talk with your doctor.

CONTACT TRACING AND PHISHING SCAMS Return to Top

You get 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.
  • The 2020 Census is underway, and everyone has a right to be included. Census takers may contact you to ask about your home life or relatives, but will never ask you for your Social Security number, Medicare number, or any health insurance information. You can also participate in the 2020 Census online here.
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. It's a scam!
  • 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.
  •  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 Return to Top

Get Help
  • Find a doctor: call 2-1-1 the LA County information line or visit the 211LA website.
  • Find resources like food, medicines, and other essential supplies: call 2-1-1, visit the 211LA website, or the Public Health resource page and view the options in the “helpers” section.
  • 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 emergency. Counselors are available by phone 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays, to help you find the resources right for your situation. Counselors speak your preferred language: we can help you in English, Spanish, Armenian, Korean, Cantonese, Mandarin, Farsi, and Russian.
  • Contact the Help Center: Call: (833) 238-4450, Visit: LACountyHelpCenter.org, or Email: DisasterHelpCenter@lacounty.gov
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 (800) 593-8222.
  • Report suspicious claims being made about testing or treatment products: report to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint

STAY INFORMED Return to Top

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Public Health has made reasonable efforts to provide accurate translation. However, no computerized translation is perfect and is not intended to replace traditional translation methods. If questions arise concerning the accuracy of the information, please refer to the English edition of the website, which is the official version.

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