COVID-19 poses an urgent public health risk – but with it comes the risk of scams and fraud targeting older adults, too. As of this writing, there is still no proven cure or vaccine for coronavirus. Yet con artists are appearing everywhere trying to capitalize on people’s fear. Keep reading to learn how you can protect yourself from these scams, with tips from the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Currently, the FTC and FDA have issued seven warning letters to companies misbranded as being able to treat or cure COVID-19. The companies’ products include teas, essential oils, and colloidal silver. Read more about the warning letters here. As a general rule, we strongly believe the best defense is to avoid supplying any personal information over the phone to unsolicited callers. Here are the types of known scams and general tips for avoiding them:

  1. Grocery Scam: Seniors are approached by strangers at stores offering to shop and deliver their groceries for them. They will ask for money and their home address, but never  deliver or even set up an arrangement to deliver. Even more dangerous, they now will have the home address of the senior.
  2. Testing Scam: Scammers may offer to test seniors or sell at-home testing kits. They may go door-to-door and quickly swab the senior’s nose and then ask for money or they will call seniors and offer to come to their home gathering personal and financial information. They may also ask for payment over the phone offering to mail out an at-home test kit.
  3. Cleaning Scam: Scammers may offer to clean and sanitize homes of seniors by going door-to-door or requiring prepayment over the phone. However, upon entering their home, they might harm the individuals, steal items, or steal personal and financial information.
  4. Phishing Scam: Scammers may impersonate members of reputable government health organizations like the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) and WHO (World Health Organization) or private institutions through phone calls or emails. They might be trying to sell cures, vaccines, or unproven treatment for COVID-19 using verbiage such as “just announced”, “FDA approved”, and “pre-market”. They also might claim the senior is “pre-qualified to receive money from the virus outbreak” asking for their social security number and other identifying and financial information.
  5. App Scam: Scammers may create mobile apps that are advertised to keep track of the
    spread of COVID-19 virus, but the app will actually download personal
    information.
  6. Investment Scam: Scammers may offer online promotions for products or services that can detect, cure, or prevent COVID-19 telling seniors to invest in the stocks of these companies claiming they are “immune” from the potential stock market crash.
  7. Charity/Donation Scam: Scammers will ask seniors to donate money to fake charities.
    They will offer to distribute valuable resources like medical supplies to those in need or to help support a fake company that is searching for products that prevent, detect, or cure
    the virus.
  8. Counterfeit Scam: Scammers will sell counterfeit items like sanitizing products, N95
    respirator masks, and any other supply that are in high demand, but just pocket the money.

At the moment, there is no known cure, vaccine, or treatment for coronavirus. Here is how you can protect yourself:

  1. Hang up on robocalls. The recording might prompt you to speak to a live operator or offer to remove you from their call list but instead will bombard you with more robocalls
  2. Ignore online offers for vaccinations and home test kits. Scammers are trying to get you to buy products that aren’t proven to treat or prevent the Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) — online or in stores. At this time, there also are no FDA-authorized home test kits for the Coronavirus. Visit the FDA to learn more.
  3. Fact-check information. Scammers, and sometimes well-meaning people, share information that hasn’t been verified. Before you pass on any messages, contact trusted sources. Visit What the U.S. Government is Doing for links to federal, state and local government agencies.
  4. Know who you’re buying from. Online sellers may claim to have in-demand products, like cleaning, household, and health and medical supplies when, in fact, they don’t. When shopping for necessary items like groceries, seek help from trusted businesses offering free delivery or ask a friend or family member.
  5. Don’t respond to texts and emails about checks from the government. The details are still being worked out. Anyone who tells you they can get you the money now is a scammer.
  6. Don’t click on links from sources you don’t know. They could download viruses onto your computer or device.
  7. Watch for emails claiming to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or experts saying they have information about the virus. For the most up-to-date information about the Coronavirus, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
  8. Do your homework when it comes to donations, whether through charities or crowdfunding sites. Don’t let anyone rush you into making a donation. If someone wants donations in cash, by gift card, or by wiring money, don’t do it.

RELATED | Coronavirus in San Diego County: Important updates

These same best practices apply to any Alzheimer’s disease related products or Medicare fraud. 

According to the California Health Advocates: 

“Medicare now covers the complete costs of COVID-19 tests and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has also just issued new guidance for Medicare Advantage and prescription drug plans regarding flexibilities to increase access to treatment and obligations of coverage when a state has formally declared an emergency. They also updated their guidance for nursing home visitations, and issued guidance for dialysis centers, home health agencies, hospice agencies and more. If you have questions or complications arise regarding coverage for any COVID-19 related treatments or tests, call your local Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program (HICAP). If you come across a COVID-19 phone scam or other kind of scam, hang up and report it to our California Senior Medicare Patrol at 1-855-613-7080.”

RELATED | Coronavirus: San Diego Community Resources

Moral of the story: Be conscious of what calls and messages you are receiving unsolicited. Remember, there are no approved vaccines, drugs, or investigational products currently available to treat or prevent the coronavirus – and be wary of anyone who claims otherwise.