LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - When disaster strikes, scammers are ready to flood communities with their schemes.
So far in Louisville, the coronavirus crisis hasn’t been immune.
“We are focusing on, sort of the worst of the worst, in terms of fraud or crimes related to COVID-19,” Kentucky FBI Special Agent in Charge Robert Brown said.
Some of those scams already popping up include robo-calls and people selling fake medical supplies like masks or COVID-19 tests. There are also scammers asking for charitable contributions to organizations or offering help to pay for student loans or rent.
“The only thing that’s limiting what new type of threat comes in or scheme, is the imagination of the bad guy,” Brown said.
Then there are the pop-up testing tents which were spotted around downtown Louisville last week. One such site was offering coronavirus tests while allegedly taking people’s Medicaid and Social Security information while charging up to $240.
The FBI was on top of them, along with the Attorney General’s Office and the city’s health department.
Monday, the health department and the Jefferson County Attorney’s Office issued an order requiring testing sites to get a license with the city. The order also allows for the sites to be inspected.
Meanwhile, Kentucky’s FBI agents have been the busiest they’ve been in quite some time, Brown said, and have organized weekly COVID-19 intelligence meetings.
"It's what we signed up to do, to protect the public," he said. "The FBI and our partners are up for the challenge."
The FBI provided WAVE 3 News with some tips on how to avoid being scammed:
Examples of COVID-19 scams
- Treatment scams: Scammers are offering to sell fake cures, vaccines, and advice on unproven treatments for COVID-19.
- Supply scams: Scammers are creating fake shops, websites, social media accounts, and email addresses claiming to sell medical supplies currently in high demand, such as surgical masks. When consumers attempt to purchase supplies through these channels, fraudsters pocket the money and never provide the promised supplies.
- Provider scams: Scammers are also contacting people by phone and email, pretending to be doctors and hospitals that have treated a friend or relative for COVID-19, and demanding payment for that treatment.
- Charity scams: Scammers are soliciting donations for individuals, groups, and areas affected by COVID-19.
- Phishing scams: Scammers posing as national and global health authorities, including the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), are sending phishing emails designed to trick recipients into downloading malware or providing personal identifying and financial information.
- App scams: Scammers are also creating and manipulating mobile apps designed to track the spread of COVID-19 to insert malware that will compromise users’ devices and personal information.
- Investment scams: Scammers are offering online promotions on various platforms, including social media, claiming that the products or services of publicly traded companies can prevent, detect, or cure COVID-19, and that the stock of these companies will dramatically increase in value as a result. These promotions are often styled as "research reports," make predictions of a specific "target price," and relate to microcap stocks, or low-priced stocks issued by the smallest of companies with limited publicly available information.
- Price Gouging scams: When sellers and/or retailers sell or rent an item for a price “which is grossly in excess of the price prior to the declaration” per KRS 367.374. Goods and services included in this prohibition include consumer food items; goods or services used for emergency cleanup; emergency supplies; medical supplies; home heating oil; building materials; housing; transportation, freight, and storage services; and gasoline or other motor fuels.
- Other scams include fraudsters claiming to work for the government or banks/credit cards and offering assistance for student loan relief, foreclosure or eviction relief, unemployment assistance, debt relief, and direct financial assistance, like government checks.
Red flags for mobile testing
- No affiliation with local medical provider or government entity (health department);
- Test sites offer “free” testing for Medicare recipients;
- Exorbitant upfront fee for testing for non-Medicare patients or not taking private insurance at all ;
- Offering or indicating additional testing will be conducted beyond COVID 19 on patient’s sample;
- Failure to utilize current CDC guidance and OSHA’s standards in interaction with patients;
- Use common sense on whether these sites are true medical professionals.
Non-fraud-related COVID-19 crimes
- Threats of violence against mayors and other public officials;
- Threats to or the intentional infection of other people; and
- Hate crimes against people of Asian heritage.
Everyone, especially those most at risk of serious illness, to avoid these and similar scams by taking the following steps:
- Independently verify the identity of any company, charity, or individual that contacts you regarding COVID-19.
- Check the websites and email addresses offering information, products, or services related to COVID-19. Be aware that 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. Legitimate health authorities will not contact the general public this way.
- Do not click on links or open email attachments from unknown or unverified sources. Doing so could download a virus onto your computer or device.
- 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. Remember, 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. Remember, an organization may not be legitimate even if it uses words like "CDC" or "government" in its name or has reputable looking seals or logos on its materials. For online resources on donating wisely, visit the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website.
- Be wary of any business, charity, or individual requesting payments or donations in cash, by wire transfer, gift card, or through the mail. Don’t send money through any of these channels.
- 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. If you decide to invest, carefully research the investment beforehand. For information on how to avoid investment fraud, visit the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) website.
- For the most up-to-date information on COVID-19, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) websites.