COVID-19 Scams – Federal Government and States Issue Warnings to Employers and Individuals
The Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) Consumer Division recently issued warnings to businesses and to the general public about scams related to the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, scammers are calling businesses to offer to sell a “COVID-19 Kit,” and then asking for employees’ personal information, including bank accounts, dates of birth, and social security numbers. Fraudsters also are sending emails pretending to be federal agents and informing individuals that they are approved for stimulus checks, government loans, or other monetary relief, and that a check is ready to be picked up. Be aware that the federal government will not ask someone to “pick up a check.” Any payments being made by the federal government to qualified recipients will be direct deposited or sent by U.S. Mail. Those responding to these scams may be asked for money, gift cards, or personal information. If you are targeted by one of these phishing scams, report it to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.
The FTC also issued an alert that phony websites are being created to sell bogus products related to COVID-19. Be aware that the product you are purchasing may be a scam, and there currently are no vaccines available to prevent COVID-19.
In one case, the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) has announced criminal charges against the operators of the website “coronavirusmedicalkit.com.” The scammers were conducting a wire fraud scheme offering individuals access to vaccine kits in exchange for a shipping cost of $4.95 paid by credit card. However, according to the DOJ, there are no legitimate COVID-19 vaccines, and no one is authorized to distribute any such vaccine to the public. As a result of this case and other COVID-19 fraud schemes, state Attorneys General offices and U.S. Attorneys throughout the United States have announced their commitment to targeting scams that exploit the COVID-19 national emergency.
In Florida, Attorney General Ashley Moody joined the U.S. Attorneys in each of the federal districts in Florida in working together to prosecute COVID-19 scammers, particularly those targeting the elderly and those offering fake vaccines. Florida’s Attorney General released a consumer alert warning Floridians to exercise caution in conducting COVID-19 research. According to the alert, various websites purporting to “inform” the general public instead contain malware capable of stealing sensitive user data. These websites easily are spread through email attachments, websites, and phony text message links.
Employers must remain vigilant about COVID-19 scams. Moreover, with unprecedented amounts of layoffs and furloughs, unemployed individuals are particularly vulnerable to fraud schemes designed to exploit their predicaments during this crisis. Employers must be watchful for email fraud with phony email address senders, websites claiming access to unemployment benefits, scammers pretending to recruit employees affected by the layoffs, and scammers imitating legitimate U.S. companies using false websites, email addresses, and social media links to solicit job applications. All these scams are designed to steal victims’ personal information, which can be used to access bank accounts, be sold on the dark web, or be used in additional scams.
The prevalence and array of COVID-19 schemes makes protecting yourself, your employees, and your business a complex and difficult task. At HGRS LLP, we remain available to assist our clients with these issues.
For more information from the FTC, see the following resource:
For more information about COVID-19 fraud schemes, or about any of the new developments in employment-related laws created in response to the COVID-19 crisis, please refer to the HGRS LLP Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resource Center, at www.hgrslaw.com, or contact our firm at (404) 442-8776.