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Beware of virus-related scams

Scammers never like to let a crisis go to waste, and it seems the current pandemic of the novel coronavirus is no exception.

Attempting to fraudulently separate people from their hard-earned money is always reprehensible, but it seems especially more so when the scams capitalize on fear and uncertainty, as with the current situation, or on people’s compassion for the victims of some other crisis, as we’ve seen before with many natural disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes and floods.

But scammers have no scruples, and the current pandemic hadn’t even been going on very long when the scams started.

The threat of scams has grown so real that federal and state law enforcement leaders have established a Virginia Coronavirus Fraud Task Force, according to a March 20 news release from the office of G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.

In addition to the usual scams, some examples of scams related to the current pandemic might be offers for fake cures or vaccines, fake shops offering high-demand medical supplies that simply take the money and never provide the supplies, soliciting donations for fake charities that say they are helping victims, apps or emails that install malware to compromise devices, price gouging, investment scams and more.

You can help protect yourself using these tips, some of which apply to many scams and not just pandemic-related ones:

  • Independently verify the identity of any company, charity, or individual that contacts you.
  • Check the websites and email addresses offering information, products or services related to COVID-19. Scammers often employ addresses that differ only slightly from those belonging to the entities they are impersonating. For example, they might use “cdc.com” or “cdc.org” instead of “cdc.gov.”
  • Be wary of unsolicited emails offering information, supplies or treatment for COVID-19 or requesting your personal information for medical purposes.
  • Do not click on links or open email attachments from unknown or unverified sources.
  • Make sure the anti-malware and anti-virus software on your computer is operating and up to date.
  • Ignore offers for a COVID-19 vaccine, cure or treatment. If there is a medical breakthrough, you won’t hear about it for the first time through an email, online ad or unsolicited sales pitch.
  • Check online reviews of any company offering COVID-19 products or supplies. Avoid companies whose customers have complained about not receiving items.
  • Research any charities or crowdfunding sites soliciting donations in connection with COVID-19 before giving.
  • Be wary of any business, charity, or individual requesting payments or donations in cash, by wire transfer, gift card or through the mail.
  • Be cautious of “investment opportunities” tied to COVID-19, especially those based on claims that a small company’s products or services can help stop the virus. For information on how to avoid investment fraud, visit the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission website.
  • For the most up-to-date information on COVID-19, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization websites.