Here are some questions and answers about coronavirus-related fraud:
How can I protect myself from coronavirus fraud?
First, understand that there are currently no F.D.A.-approved vaccines or treatments for the coronavirus, said Noah Joshua Phillips, an F.T.C. commissioner. That will, hopefully, change — but you are unlikely to hear about it first via a shady robocall. The best thing to do if you get a suspicious call is to hang up, he said.
Standard advice for any type of suspicious communication applies now, only more so, experts say. Whenever an offer seems too good to be true, or some aspect of a call or email or social media posting seems a bit off, pause before you do anything.
“Engage your inner skeptic,” said Kathy Stokes, director of fraud prevention programs at AARP. Turn to credible sources of information on the virus, she said, including the websites of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration. Make sure you are visiting the official “dot gov” site and not a knockoff that may end in “dot com” or “dot org.”
If you get a strange email or text, don’t click on any links or attachments; it could download malware onto your computer. Call the sender of the email, or call a trusted friend, to get a second opinion. Call the government agency cited in the message, using a number you look up independently, and ask if it has legitimate business with you.
What if I am expecting a government stimulus payment?
Most people don’t have to do anything to get their economic stimulus payments, which the government is issuing to help people facing money troubles because of the virus. Those payments will be deposited into your bank account automatically, the I.R.S. said.
The agency encouraged people to take “extra care” during this time, however, to avoid potential fraud. “The I.R.S. isn’t going to call you asking to verify or provide your financial information” so you can get your payment faster, the head of the agency, Chuck Rettig, said in a statement this month.
Some people who don’t typically file a tax return, like people with very low incomes, must enter their information onto a special I.R.S. portal. This involves sharing sensitive details, including your Social Security number, so be careful to use the I.R.S.’s official website, said John Breyault, vice president of the National Consumers League, a nonprofit group. “When people are desperate,” he said, “that creates opportunities for scammers.”