Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan urged the public to remain vigilant for COVID-19 scams that are targeted through emails, texts, phone calls, and in one case, in person.
In the recent in-person scam, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said men claiming to be Houston Public Works employees gained access to a couple’s home by alleging water lines had been poisoned by COVID-19. Turner said COVID-19 is not present in city water and that public works employees will never ask to enter a home.
“It is unfortunate that bad people will use something like the coronavirus to commit crimes like this,” Ryan said in a press release. “This couple not only lost precious possessions, they could have been seriously hurt.”
Common COVID-19 scams include:
– Selling tests, miracle cures, or treatments for the virus that can be used at home—there are no such things.
– Asking for personal or financial information, such as a Medicare number—do not provide any such information.
– Claiming to be from Medicare or the Social Security Administration and asking for Medicare or Social Security numbers—do not give those numbers. The government already has the numbers and will never contact you by email or by phone—only by letter.
– Requiring a payment fee to the IRS in order to get your stimulus payment—no payment is required.
Trying to sell “hot” new stock related to the virus.
Ryan offered the following guidelines that can help to prevent being the victim of a scam:
– Never click on a link or attachment in an email or text from someone you don’t know.
– Never provide your personal information (address, date of birth, banking information, identification numbers) to people you do not know. Government agencies will never ask for personal information or money.
– Do not be pressured into making fast decisions.
– Take time to research a supposed charity organization. Look at the website and check it out with the Better Business Bureau.
To report a scam or attempted scam related to COVID-19, call the Office of the Harris County Attorney at 713-755-5101. You can also call the National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. If the scam comes via the internet, a complaint can be filed with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.
Government agencies, including the FBI, Federal Trade Commission, Federal Communications Commission, Food and Drug Administration, and the Securities and Exchange Commission, are all working to shut down scams. The FDA’s Operation Quack Hack has shut down hundreds of websites and online marketplaces promoting certain products, including fraudulent drugs, testing kits, and personal protective equipment sold online with unproven claims.