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.

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

COVID-19 TESTING SCAMS AND FRAUD

Scammers have stepped up their game to take advantage of people who are looking for a COVID-19 test.

If you hear about a testing site on social media, check the source before you go. Scammers have been known to pose as a neighbor and list their location on a community networks and webpages.  

See the video “COVID Testing: Avoiding Fraud and Price Gouging” from the LAC Department of Consumer and Business Affairs: English | Spanish 

 Clues that a COVID-19 testing site might be a scam
  • Employees not wearing masks or gloves. They should be wearing full Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as medical masks, gloves, gowns, and sometimes face shields.
  • Employees not knowing or being willing to share the name of the laboratory and business providing the testing.
  • Lack of signage displaying the name of the testing provider.
  • Using an unauthorized test. You cannot trust the results of an unauthorized test. Only get tests that are authorized by the FDA — you can see a list here.
  • Misspellings or poor grammar in posted information or testing paperwork.
  • Requiring proof of residency, social security number, or passport for testing. You will need some form of identification, but if social security number is REQUIRED, this is a red flag.
  • No information on how you will get your test results.
  • Being charged for a COVID-19 test. COVID-19 testing is available for free to anyone who lives in LA County. If you have public or private insurance, you should not be charged any co-pays. Some private sites may charge, for example for services such as expedited test results. Ask in advance if there are any charges or fees. Being asked for cash is a red flag. Learn more at the DPH How to Get a Test webpage.
  • Being told that getting an official test (or treatment) will affect your immigration status.
    • Getting a COVID-19 test, treatment or vaccine will NOT affect your immigration status. COVID-19 services are not a public benefit under the public charge rule.
    • Your medical information is private. Your doctor is not allowed to share it with immigration officials.
    • Visit the Los Angeles County Office of Immigrant Affairs COVID-19 page for updates on COVID-19 for immigrant residents.
 Clues that an offer of a self-test kit might be a scam
  • Finding a home test kit for sale on the street or door-to-door, or in an open package.
    • Home test kits are sold in sealed packages and always include official instructions from the manufacturer.
    • Never use a test that is unpackaged. You will not be able to trust the results.
  • You get a call offering you free tests. If you get a call from someone who asks for your information, such as credit card or social security number, do not respond – it is a scam. You can order free FDA-authorized at-home test kits at COVIDtests.gov or 1-800-232-0233 but no one from this federal program will call you.

Tips for buying a test kit online. 

  • Before you buy a test kit online, check the website that is selling it.
  • Check to see if the test has been authorized by the FDA here.

COVID-19 VACCINE SCAMS AND FRAUD

 Look for these clues to COVID-19 vaccination scams
  • Being charged to receive the vaccine.
    • COVID-19 vaccination providers cannot charge you for a vaccine.
      • If you have insurance, they can bill your health plan or program, but they cannot charge you for any administration fees, copays, or coinsurance.
      • They cannot charge you for an office visit or other fee if the only service they provide is a COVID-19 vaccination.
    • COVID-19 vaccination providers cannot refuse to vaccinate you if you do not have health insurance coverage, are underinsured, or are out of network. They also cannot require you to get additional services in order to get a vaccine.
    • If someone tries to charge you to get vaccinated, it is a scam! Visit CDC’s vaccines costs webpage for details.
  • 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.cdph.ca.gov. To learn more, visit the vaccine records webpage at VaccinateLAcounty.com.

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 COVID-19. The FTC recently took legal action against a company for falsely marketing their dietary supplement as an effective treatment against COVID-19.
  • 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 government help
  • The government will NOT ask you to pay money in advance to receive Federal financial aid, 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.

PRICE GOUGING

Being overcharged for basics, including tests
  • It is illegal for businesses to raise their prices too much during a crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. This is called price gouging, and it is a crime in California.
    • Businesses are not allowed to charge more than 10% above the usual price for essential goods and services, such as housing, food, and emergency supplies. This includes COVID-19 tests and masks.
    • 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.
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/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.

FAKE CHARITIES

Many people want to help others in the community who are suffering during the pandemic by donating to a charity. 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 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. L
  • Here are a few tips to prevent Medicare fraud.

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.

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 to be 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 and texting 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 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 directly.
  • 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 & 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 or visit LACountyHelpCenter.org.

BE INFORMED

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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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