CONSUMER ALERT: AG Paxton Reminds Texans to Be Aware of Cyber Scams During Coronavirus (COVID-19) Emergency
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton continues to caution Texans about scams emerging during the statewide Coronavirus disaster declaration announced by Governor Abbott last Friday.
Several cyber scams involving false emails or text messages have been reported, and Attorney General Paxton advises all Texans to be on alert for electronic communications with dangerous attachments or fraudulent website links. Unscrupulous actors send these messages with the intention of deceiving citizens into revealing sensitive information or donating to false charities. Any email or social media post with a Coronavirus (COVID-19) subject line, attachment or hyperlink should be treated with caution.
Remember these tips to avoid cyber scams:
- Avoid clicking on links in unsolicited emails and be wary of email attachments.
- Use trusted sources like legitimate, government websites for up-to-date, fact-based information about COVID-19.
- Do not reveal any personal or financial information in an email, and do not respond to any email solicitations for this information.
- Verify a charity’s authenticity before making donations.
The current disaster declaration is effective across the entire state, and under Texas consumer protection statutes, it is illegal for a person to take advantage of a disaster declaration by engaging in deceptive trade practices.
Please be on the lookout for any of these COVID-19 scams:
- Medical Product Scams:
- Based on the current stress on the supply chain, scammers may promise equipment they do not have access to in order to capitalize on the medical community’s urgent needs. The FBI asks the medical community to exercise due diligence and appropriate caution when dealing with any vendors with whom they have never worked and/or of which they’ve never heard, and when relying on unidentified third-party brokers in the supply chain.
- The FBI advises to be on the lookout for any suspicious activity, to include:
- Unusual payment terms (e.g., supplier asking for up-front payments or proof of payment), Last-minute price changes, Last-minute excuses for delay in shipment (e.g., claims that the equipment was seized at port or stuck in customs), Unexplained source of bulk supply
- Treatment scams:
- Scammers are selling fake testing kits, vaccines, medicines, and cures for COVID-19. There are fraud reports seeing a host of Corona-related scams preying on the fears of people around the virus. In many cases, these have revolved around selling products related to protecting yourself, whether that be for face masks, hand sanitizer or some other item. Victims have been tricked into spending money on these products, only for them to never arrive.
- There have also been reports of fake testing kits that contain dangerous chemicals. So not only have you wasted money on something that doesn’t work, it may make you poorly in the process.
- Supply scams: Scammers are claiming they have in-demand products, like cleaning, household, health, and medical supplies, but when an order is placed, the scammer takes the money and never delivers the order.
- Charity scams:
- Scammers are fraudulently soliciting donations for non-existent charities to help people affected by the COVID-19 crisis. Scammers often use names that are similar to the names of real charities. If someone claims to represent a charity, ask them for ID. Be suspicious of requests for money up front. If someone attempts to pressure you into accepting a service, they are unlikely to be genuine.
- The FTC offers tips for avoiding charity scams: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/how-donate-wisely-and-avoid-charity-scams
- Phishing scams: Scammers, posing as national and global health authorities, such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), are sending fake emails or texts to trick the recipient into sharing their personal information like account numbers, Social Security numbers, or login IDs and passwords.
- Fake ‘live infections’ update message: scammers promising to provide the victim with a list of active infections in their area, so long as they follow a link which redirects them to a credential-stealing page or which demands a ‘donation’ into a Bitcoin account;
- Fake Coronavirus newsletters: fraudsters sending out articles about the Coronavirus outbreak, with a link to subscribe to a daily newsletter for further updates;
- Fake Coronavirus investment and trading mails: scammers sending ‘advice’ about investments and share trading pushing people to attempt to take advantage of the stock market turbulence;
- Fake tax refund messages: fraudsters posing as HMRC, offering tax refunds if people go to a fake website and provide certain personal and financial details.
- The FTC offers tips for avoiding phishing scams: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/how-recognize-and-avoid-phishing-scams
- App scams: Scammers are creating COVID-19 related apps that contain malware designed to steal the user’s personal information after it is downloaded.
- Provider scams: Scammers pretending to be doctors and hospitals that have treated a friend or relative for COVID-19, and demand payment for that treatment.
- Investment scams: Scammers are promoting the stock of small companies, which have limited publicly available information, using false or misleading claims that the companies’ stock will increase dramatically due to the COVID-19 outbreak, such as claims that a company can prevent, detect, or cure COVID-19.
- Remote and Work from home scams:
- Remote access scams target home workers
- Everyone is having to get far more adept at working from home, and even that is presenting an opportunity for scammers.
- This is where people try to convince you to give them access to your computer or to hand over your login details and passwords in order to solve some invented issues with your system.
- They may then use this access to try to steal your personal details, or simply hold you to ransom, refusing to give you back access unless you pay a fee.
- Virtual Kidnapping Scams:
- The FBI has become aware of recent cases in New Mexico of a phone scam known as virtual kidnapping in which a victim is told his or her family member has been kidnapped and a ransom is demanded.
- Unlike traditional abductions, virtual kidnappers have not actually kidnapped anyone. Instead, through deceptions and threats, they coerce victims to pay a quick ransom before the scheme falls apart.
- Stimulus Check Fraud: The United States Treasury Department could start issuing relief checks to American families as soon as next month.
- Right now – the proposal includes sending two large checks to many Americans and devoting $300 billion toward helping small businesses avoid mass layoffs.
- As we wait for word on how this will all work – we have a warning. Scammers are already using the relief money to find new ways to trick you into giving it to them.
- If you receive a text, e-mail or even a phone call from someone claiming to be from the government with a check for you. BEWARE.
- People are already reporting this. These fake messages will claim to be able to deposit $1,000 or more directly into your bank account and will likely ask for your banking information. Do not, under any circumstance, give away your personal information via text, e-mail, or phone.
For the most up to date information on the COVID-19 outbreak and the federal response, check https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html
Texans who believe they have encountered disaster scams should call the Office of the Attorney General’s toll-free complaint line at (800) 621-0508 or file a complaint online. For additional information on disaster scams, please visit our disaster scams website.