As if a global pandemic isn’t bad enough, fraudsters are trying to take advantage of this tragedy by scamming the general public. Former Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said in regards to these scams, “A pandemic is a time when people should come together to pursue the common good, but sadly there are some who instead use it as an opportunity to deceive and thieve.”
Unfortunately, tragedies can be seen as opportunities for scammers to make a quick buck. Just by the fall of 2020, the US Department of Justice “had received 76,000 tips about coronavirus scams… has filed at least 33 criminal cases, along with 13 civil actions seeking to halt the sale of fake vaccines, treatments or testing.” How many of these tips are insurance-related is anyone’s guess, but we can safely assume they make up a fairly substantial portion of those frauds.
Here are a number of different scams that are taking place. A lot of these are schemes that are commonly done but have adapted to the new circumstances created by the coronavirus, while others are unique cons.
Staged accidents is when a driver maneuvers an unsuspecting motorist into a crash in order to make a false insurance claim. Intentionally rear-ending or sideswiping another car are common schemes. These accidents are often committed by organized fraud rings.
Staged Accidents is a common scheme used by fraudsters even in normal times, but due to the pandemic there are fewer cars on the road and fewer witnesses to any potential accident. Investigators say scammers will use the fear of spreading COVID-19 as an excuse to discourage police involvement, leaving an opening to file false insurance claims.
This type of fraud occurs after a car accident has occurred. A person or a group of people who were not in the car at the time of this “accident” claim they were injured in the wreck. This type of fraud goes hand-in-hand with staged accidents and is orchestrated by organized fraud rings. The goal of this fraud is to file a claim with an insurance provider in order to obtain a settlement. Scammers may suggest forgoing calling the police and only provide a limited exchange of information such as passenger names. With no police report and no witnesses, they have an opportunity to make false injury claims for people who were not in the car.
During this pandemic, it is important to practice social distancing, but you should still protect yourself from fraud. In the event of an accident, contact the police and wait in your car. You should also count the number of people who were in each car and attempt to obtain their names and contact information.
Auto Repair Fraud
This can happen when a repair shop takes advantage of both you and your insurance company. Fraud investigators report that some repair shops are charging excessive fees for cleansing, disinfecting and storing vehicles, claiming they cannot work on vehicles for several days because of possible COVID-19 infection.
Be suspicious of auto repair shops that charge high out-of-pocket fees for cleaning and storing your car. Speak with your insurance adjuster before paying any up-front out-of-pocket costs.
Fake COVID-19 Testing Sites
Fraudsters are trying to cash in by setting up fake COVID-19 testing sites. Per recent reports, they have already appeared in Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, New York, and Washington state. These con artists are seeking to get money for administrating this phony test along with trying to steal you social security, Medicare, Medicaid, and credit card information for the purposes of identity theft.
Watch for red flags from the staff. Does they follow health protocols like wearing personal protective equipment? Do they change gloves between tests?
Protect yourself by checking your local or state health department for a list of legitimate COVID-19 testing sites.
Impersonating the World Health Organization
Criminals are impersonating themselves as members of the World Health Organization (WHO), asking for money and your personal information. Keep in mind that WHO will never:
- Ask you for a user name or password to access safety information.
- Never email you attachments you didn’t request.
- Never ask you to visit a link outside of www.who.int
- Never charge you money to apply for a job, register for a conference or reserve a hotel.
- Never conduct lotteries.
- Never offer prizes, grants, certificates or funding through email.
If you have been targeted by this scam, you can report it directly to them at https://www.who.int/about/report_scam/en/
COVID-19 Vaccine Scams
Immediately after the deployment of vaccines for the coronavirus, criminals have sought to take advantage of a desperate public trying to get access to the vaccine to protect themselves. The US Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General released a fraud alert on December 21, 2020 warning about COVID-19 Vaccine Scams. According to HHS, these crooks are using a variety of ways to trick Americans into providing their personal information including telemarketing calls, text messages, social media, and even door-to-door visits. The point of this ploy is to steal your identity and then be able to fraudulently bill federal health programs.
The US Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General has released a handy guide to protect yourself from COVID-19 Vaccine Scams at https://oig.hhs.gov/coronavirus/vaccine-scams2020.pdf
There are just some of the schemes being perpetrated during this pandemic, and new ones will be sure to be invented as this crisis continues. It is important to remain vigilant. Always remember that scams always sound too good to be true, it usually is. A good rule to follow is to be wary if someone begins to ask you for your credit card information, social security number or other personal information.
If you suspect you have been targeted by a COVID-19 scam, please contact law enforcement. You can also review the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s COVID-19 resource center, which has information as well as contact information to various state and national agencies: https://www.nicb.org/covid-19
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