Like with most services people rely on for day-to-day activities, scammers are finding ways to profit during the COVID-19 outbreak—in several different ways.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration released information March 20 about fake coronavirus test kits hitting the market, claiming to work for diagnoses, prevention and treatment of the virus.
"The agency is beginning to see unauthorized fraudulent test kits that are being marketing to test for COVID-19 in the home,” the FDA said in a press release. “At this time, the FDA has not authorized any test that is available to purchase for testing yourself at home for COVID-19.”
The FDA is working with pharmaceutical companies and those in the medical field to develop tests and make them more widely available, but so far, that hasn't happened.
"Fraudulent health claims, tests and products can pose serious health risks. They may keep some patients from seeking care or delay necessary medical treatment,” the press release said.
Anyone who suspects they may be developing symptoms of or carrying the coronavirus causing COVID-19 should speak with their doctor, who will then outline the appropriate testing process.
Internet scams also are running amuck. The state Office of the Chief Information Officer gives the following advice to Nebraskans to avoid falling victim to scams targeting users—especially donors who may be looking to give during this time.
• Be cautious handling any email with a COVID-19-related subject line, attachment or link. Be wary of social media pleas, texts or calls.
• Don't click links pr attachments in unsolicited emails.
• Use trusted sources, like legitimate government websites, for updates on the virus. Posters on social media sites often circulate misinformation.
• Look at the email address, not just the sender's name. A genuine email from a legitimate organization will have the organization's name in the domain.
• Do not reveal personal or financial information in an email or over the phone to someone you don't know. Do not respond to email solicitations.
• Verify a charity's authenticity before making donations.
• Look for grammatical errors and be wary of emails or calls that have implied consequences for failure to comply with demands.
Locally, the Nebraska Public Power District is noticing phone scammers taking advantage of the COVID-19 situation.
NPPD customers reported growing numbers of scam calls March 19.
"Anyone who receives such a call should not let their guard down and should contact our team and law enforcement immediately,” said Tim Arlt, NPPD vice-president and retail general manager.
Scam callers will say the bill must be paid immediately or the power will be shut off and will recommend several methods of payment. Sometimes the scammer’s caller-identification is falsified so it appears to originate from the utility company, a practice known as 'spoofing.'
NPPD said customers should remember:
• NPPD does not call to ask customers for a credit card number.
• NPPD does not demand payment with a pre-paid card.
• Any customer receiving such a call should not attempt to make payment over the phone using a credit or debit card.
• Write down the call back number or consider asking where the caller is located.
• Contact law enforcement.
• Let NPPD’s Centralized Customer Care Center at 1-877-ASK-NPPD (877-275-6773) know about the call.
• If served electrically by a rural public power district or municipality, customers should contact that organization before providing any type of payment.