May 12, 2020

How to spot and avoid COVID-19 online scams

Learn how to protect yourself and your business from opportunistic online scammers

The global coronavirus pandemic has brought with it widespread fear, panic and worry. And if that wasn’t bad enough, cyber criminals are ready and waiting to take advantage of unsuspecting consumers and businesses.

As people stay at home in an effort to combat the effects of COVID-19 on the world’s population, many of us are spending more time on our phones and computers for work, shopping and entertainment.

Unfortunately, cyber criminals are seizing the opportunity to prey on our fears and, as a result, there’s been a significant rise in online scams related to the pandemic.

To help you stay safe, we’d like to share some tips on how you can protect yourself and your business from COVID-19 online scams.

Types of COVID-19 online scams

There are several ways that scammers are using the pandemic to target people.  

  • Posing as government sources: Some scams are claiming to issue stimulus check information and payments on behalf of the IRS or local government tax authority.
  • Falsely representing health organizations: Scammers posing as reliable health organizations such as the WHO or CDC may offer fake cures, tests, vaccines or other COVID-19 advice on unproven treatments.
  • Shopping scams: Fake online stores claiming to be selling in-demand products (like hand sanitizer, toilet paper and surgical masks) will take your money but never deliver the merchandise.
  • Charity scams: Scammers often prey on the generosity of others by posing as a nonprofit organization seeking donations. In an attempt to steal credit card information and other personal information, scammers may contact you asking for donations to help people and groups affected by COVID-19.
  • Fraudulent financial offers and investment scams: Beware of people posing as banks or investors offering too-good-to-be-true loans or investment opportunities.

How to avoid COVID-19 online scams

Here’s advice from the Federal Trade Commission on how to keep safe from these types of scams.

  • Don’t respond to texts, emails or calls about checks from the government. The IRS won’t contact you by phone, email, text message or social media about your stimulus payment. Anyone who does this is a scammer phishing for information. Only use to submit information to the IRS.
  • Ignore online offers for vaccinations. At this time, there are no products proven to treat or prevent COVID-19.
  • Be wary of ads for test kits. Most test kits being advertised have not been approved by the FDA, and aren’t necessarily accurate.
  • Hang up on robocalls. Scammers are using illegal robocalls to impersonate healthcare authorities, or to pitch everything from low-priced health insurance to work-at-home schemes. If in doubt, don’t answer!
  • Delete scam text messages. Bogus texts are offering free home test kits, promoting fake cures, selling health insurance and generally preying on virus related fears. Delete them as soon as they arrive.
  • Watch out for emails claiming to be from the CDC or WHO. Use sites like and to get the latest information. And never click on links in emails from sources you don’t know!
  • Do research before donating to charity. Use Charity Navigator to check if a charity is legitimate or not. If possible, donate directly through the charity’s website rather than clicking a link sent to you. Never donate in cash, by gift card, or by wiring money.
  • Be careful who you share financial information with. If you’ve received an enticing loan offer or investment opportunity, do your homework first. Call the bank or organization directly (on their official phone number) if you’re unsure.

By knowing the warning signs of these common COVID-19 online scams, you’ll be able to protect yourself and your business from cyber threats and stay safer online.

For more help and guidance, visit the FTC’s Coronavirus Advice for Consumers page.

Share these tips with family and friends to help them stay safe, too.

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