The State Attorney General and Office of Consumer Protection (OCP) reports that there have been a wave of scams related to the global COVID-19 pandemic. These scams focus on all areas of consumer vulnerability and capitalize on fear and rapidly changing developments.

Scams are initiated online, or via telephone and text messaging. They include counterfeit product offers, bogus door-to-door tests and virus-related products, warnings you may have been infected, and phony charity donation requests.

“In moments of crisis, we all must be extra vigilant against bad actors who try to take advantage of honest people,” said Attorney General Clare Connors. “Please exercise caution and commonsense in the weeks and months ahead. Don’t let criminals prey on our community.”

“People need to be extra cautious. Don’t provide your personal information to anyone who contacts you by email or phone,” adds OCP Executive Director Stephen Levins.

Federal Stimulus Payment Scam
If you receive any communication from someone claiming to be from the government with a stimulus check for you – do not respond. These scams will likely ask you for your bank account information, social security number, or credit card information or offer to assist in applying for stimulus money. Never open attachments or links in any emails claiming to be from the government.

For the most accurate and up-to-date information regarding the federal stimulus payment, visit www.irs.gov/coronavirus.

Cyber Scams
Be wary of all emails claiming to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), and other healthcare organizations, offering to share information about the virus.

Only visit websites with clearly distinguishable URL addresses. Scammers seek to exploit individuals by directing web traffic to similar, but falsely identified, website names where they can provide misinformation or attempt to gain consumers’ personal information or finances in exchange for pandemic updates. Do not respond to emails asking for the verification of personal data, including Medicare or Medicaid information, in exchange for receiving economic stimulus funds or other benefits from the government. Government agencies are NOT sending out emails asking for residents’ personal information to receive funds or other pandemic relief opportunities.

Telephone and Text Messaging Scams
Robocalls have been an ongoing problem for many. While working remotely or responding to a larger volume of phone calls, it may be difficult to ignore calls from unknown numbers.

If you find that you’ve answered a robocall, hang up. Don’t press any numbers. Scammers are calling with offers involving everything from COVID-19 treatments and cures, to work-from-home schemes. The recording might say that pressing a number will direct you to a live operator or even remove you from their call list, but it also might lead to more robocalls.

Similar to email phishing scams, text messages from unknown sources may offer hyperlinks to what appears to be automated pandemic updates, or interactive infection maps. These are just two examples of ways scammers can install malware on your mobile electronic device, putting you at increased risk for identity theft and financial exploitation.

Counterfeit Product Offers & High Demand Goods
Ignore offers for COVID-19 vaccinations and home test kits. Currently, no vaccines, pills, potions, lotions, medications, or other prescription or over-the-counter products are available to treat or cure the Coronavirus disease. This applies to offers made online, in stores, by electronic message, or over the phone. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not authorized any home test kits for COVID-19.

Household cleaning products, sanitizers, personal hygiene products, and health and medical supplies may be offered via online or in-person sellers aiming to capitalize on under supplied or unavailable products. When buying online, be sure to research the seller by searching online for the person or company’s name, phone number and email address, plus words like “review,” “complaint,” or “scam.” If everything checks out, pay by credit card as opposed to debit, and keep a record of your transaction.

Bogus Door to Door Tests and Virus-related Products
Do not answer the door or allow into your home any unknown individuals or business representatives moving door-to-door offering to sell consumer products, medical kits, vaccines, cures, whole-home sanitization, or in-person COVID-19 testing. Contact local law enforcement to report such activities and, if possible and can be done so safely, alert neighbors, particularly seniors, of these concerning door-to-door offers.

Phony Charities & Donation Requests
Unfortunately, scammers take advantage of good will and generosity by creating fictitious charitable organizations. When disasters and life changing events such as the current pandemic occur, consumers need to be cautious as to where donations are going.

Check before you donate. The Attorney General’s website for the charitable organizations is available at ag.ehawaii.gov/charity/search.html or visit www.consumerresources.org/consumer-topics/charities/ for guidance.

When giving, always do so by credit card or other secure payment processer. Never give by gift card, wire transfer, or other anonymous electronic payment processer. Always fact-check your source, messages and the businesses you’re engaging with. Never provide personal information or money to those you don’t know or aren’t comfortable with.

For information regarding SCAM prevention, assistance, and up-to-date tips, please visit:
www.consumerresources.org/
www.ftc.gov/
www.fbi.gov/
ag.hawaii.gov/tax/files/2013/01/540427_11.pdf
www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0074-giving-charity

If you have any concerns or want to file a complaint, contact the Office of Consumer Protection by calling (808) 587-4272 or online at cca.hawaii.gov/ocp/consumer-complaint/.