Avoiding costly COVID-19 scams

By Erin Dougherty for the City of Overland Park

People all over the country are falling prey to a number of costly COVID-19 scams, including Kansas residents. The FBI and Secret Service have described these types of scams as the “other coronavirus crisis,” stating, “the more catastrophic the event, the more active the fraudsters.”

As Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt explained, the pandemic is providing more opportunities than ever for criminals.

“The bad guys see a much wider range of targets because they know so many people’s lives have been disrupted. More people are out of work, they’re working from home, they’re worried about loved ones,” Schmidt told 41 Action News, “All of those things can create the type of uncertainty that is the perfect environment for the crooks.”

In addition to keeping your family safe from the COVID-19 virus itself, you also need to be aware of how some are using the pandemic to steal from your pocketbook. Here are some tips that should make you more aware of these dangers, so this kind of criminal behavior doesn’t impact your family.

Common COVID-19 Scams

COVID-19 prevention
Some scammers might claim they have a product that will keep you and your family from contracting coronavirus. Public health officials at the CDC have the best advice for avoiding the virus. Once the COVID-19 vaccine is available, talk to your doctor about when and where it is best available to you, or check with a trusted government health agency. 

Text messages
Several text message scams offering financial assistance have been reported. Some are related to government stimulus funds, others tell you that you’ve been in contact with someone infected by COVID-19, accompanied by a link to where illegitimate offers reside, including fake testing offers. Never click on a text message with links relating to COVID-19 or anything else from unknown senders.

Fake masks and other personal protective equipment sales
As is the case with any product available online or advertised to you via text or email, always be careful by verifying the website’s security status, guarding your personal information, paying with a credit card and saving receipts. 

Better Business Bureau: How to know if an online seller is safe and secure

Unemployment benefits fraud
Many residents are receiving notifications from the Kansas Department of Labor stating their unemployment claim has been processed when they had never even filed for benefits. This is identity theft, as it’s likely someone else used your personal information to receive payment on your behalf. If you have received a letter stating your benefits are in process and you didn’t file for unemployment, report the fraud to state by phone at 785-581-7300, online at www.dol.ks.gov/fraud or by email at kdol.fraud@ks.gov.

Protecting yourself from COVID-19 scams

Most common scams involve testing. Don’t let an unknown individual, email or text convince you to pay for a COVID-19 test. Tests are free to Johnson County residents at the Johnson County Health Department drive-through clinic. Information about testing is available at www.jocogov.org/coronavirus.

Likewise, paying a fee to get a COVID-19 vaccine early is likely a scam. Only healthcare providers registered with the State of Kansas will distribute available vaccines in phased distribution, and many vaccinations will be delivered at no cost.

Hang up on robocalls, or any call from an unknown number or person calls asking for personal information, especially related to your health or finances. If you receive one of these calls, it’s probably a scam. You can always verify the legitimacy of a request by calling a contact you know and have worked with before and finding out if your response is needed.

If you think someone has tried to scam you or commit fraud on your behalf, please report the incident to the FBI at tips.fbi.gov or to the Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov.

Check out these facts and answers to frequently asked questions about COVID-19 crime from the FBI: Protect Yourself from Pandemic Scammers — FBI

More information about how to protect yourself from COVID-19 scams is available on the Kansas Attorney General’s consumer protection website at www.InYourCornerKansas.org or by calling the state’s consumer protection hotline at 800-432-2310.

We’re all facing new challenges and stresses during this pandemic, which can make many of us vulnerable to scams. We’ve all received so much information about new things our community has not faced before, so please be very careful when confronted with COVID-19 related solutions, solicitations and suspicious communications. Don’t become another victim of these criminal activities. 

A note from the editor:

Overland Park is working with community writers to bring you important news, information and stories regarding the coronavirus pandemic. Learn more about the City’s response to coronavirus.