Coronavirus Scams: Beware False Claims and Online Phishing Campaigns

Beware of false coronavirus claims and scams, government agencies warn.
Don't fall victim to fake coronvirus claims, government agencies warn.Handout/FTC

Authorities warn of fraudulent claims and online scams during coronavirus pandemic.

Feeding on fear of the coronavirus, scammers and spammers are out in force trying to dupe people into buying fake products and give up confidential credit information.

Government agencies have stepped in to stem increased efforts to deceive the public via robocalls, online scams and people falsely claiming to be public health officials selling virus selling kits door to door.

“The pandemic is dangerous enough without wrongdoers seeking to profit from public panic and this sort of conduct cannot be tolerated,” U.S. Attorney General William Barr wrote in a letter to federal prosecutors. “It is essential that the Department of Justice remain vigilant in detecting, investigating, and prosecuting wrongdoing related to the crisis,” he said.

The Federal Trade Commission has issued public warnings against so-called "miracle cures" including offerings of silver products to combat the virus made by Jim Bakker of "The Jim Bakker Show."

"Yes, that Jim Bakker you may remember from TV in the the 80s," the FTC said in statement. 

Cease-and-desist letters have been sent to Bakker and to companies selling essential oils, frankincense and aroma therapies as protection against COVID-19.

Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones was sent a similar order from the New York State attorney general for claims that his products, including toothpaste, could be used to treat the coronavirus.

California Democratic congresswoman Katie Porter, who recently grilled Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Robert Redfield over virus testing, issued her own warning, citing a bogus offer she received for a free iPhone.

“I’ve seen it throughout my career as a consumer protection attorney: scam artists trying to make a quick buck off people when they’re most vulnerable,” she wrote on Twitter.


The Securities and Exchange Commision also issued guidelines about solicitations for investments in publicly traded companies claiming its products can prevent or cure coronavirus.  Such claims “may be made as part of fraudulent ‘pump-and-dump’ schemes,” the agency said.

A report released this week by San Francisco cyber security firm Digital Shadows urged people to be aware of scammers posing as the World Health Organization, The CDC and Johns Hopkins University. The posers offer downloads that are really malware that can steal sensitive information including credit card numbers.

According to Forbes magazine, a Lybia-based malware has spread to android phones via text, promising to share data and stats about the coronavirus but instead watches you through your smartphone camera.

Also in California, Porterville authorities alerted residents to beware door-to-door sellers of coronavirus testing kits dressed as police officers and firefighters. 

And state officials in Alabama and Oklahoma warned residents of price-gouging, robocalls and people posing as health officials offering coronavirus tests for sale.

"I continue to be dismayed at how cold-blooded some people can be in a situation like this," Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter said recently.