Attorney General George Issues Alert After Reports of COVID-19 Scams

Attorney General Denise George. (2019 Government House photo)

USVI Attorney General Denise George is alerting Virgin Islands  residents to a wave of COVID-19 scams occurring as a result of the global coronavirus pandemic.  These scams focus on all areas of consumer vulnerability to capitalize on the fear and rapidly changing developments being provided by local and federal leaders.

“It is more important than ever during these trying times that residents remain vigilant by using a commonsense approach during online shopping, charitable and business interactions, as well as in communications with those offering what seem to be too-good-to-be-true opportunities,” George said.

Cyber Scams

Be very cautious of all emails claiming to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), and other healthcare organizations, offering to share information about the virus.

The attorney general said, “Do not open attachments or click on links within these emails, as scammers are using phony COVID-19 tracking websites to infect electronic devices with malware, putting residents at risk for identity theft and financial exploitation.”

Take extra precautions to avoid spoofed or phony websites by only visiting websites with clearly distinguishable URL addresses.  Scammers seek to exploit individuals by directing web traffic to similar, but falsely identified, website names where they can provide misinformation or attempt to gain a consumer’s personal information or finances in exchange for pandemic updates.

Do not respond to emails asking for the verification of personal data, including Medicare or Medicaid information, in exchange for receiving economic stimulus funds or other benefits from the government.  Government agencies are not sending out emails asking for residents’ personal information in order to receive funds or other pandemic relief opportunities.

Fraudulent Product Offers and High Demand Goods

The attorney general further advises residents to ignore offers for COVID-19 miracle cures, vaccinations and home test kits.  Currently, no vaccines, pills, potions, lotions, medications or other prescription or over-the-counter products are available to treat or cure the coronavirus disease.  This applies to offers made online, in stores, by electronic message or over the phone.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not authorized any home test kits for COVID-19.

As many have seen firsthand, some consumer products are in extreme demand. Household cleaning products, sanitizers, personal hygiene products, and health and medical supplies may be offered online or by in-person sellers aiming to capitalize on under supplied or unavailable products.

When buying online, be sure to research the seller by searching online for the person or company’s name, phone number and email address, plus words like “review,” “complaint” or “scam.”  If everything checks out, pay by credit card as opposed to debit, and keep a record of your transaction.

Telephone and Text Messaging Scams

Robocalls have been an ongoing problem for many people.  During this difficult time, while working remotely or responding to a larger volume of phone calls, many find it difficult to ignore those from unknown numbers.

If you find that you’ve answered a robocall – hang up!  Don’t press any numbers.  Scammers are calling with offers involving everything from COVID-19 treatments and cures to work-from-home schemes.  The recording might say that pressing a number will direct you to a live operator or even remove you from their call list, but it also might lead to more robocalls.

Similar to email phishing scams, text messages from unknown sources may offer hyperlinks to what appears to be automated pandemic updates or interactive infection maps.  These are just two examples of ways scammers can install malware on your mobile electronic device, putting you at increased risk for identity theft and financial exploitation.

Bogus Door to Door Tests and Virus-related Products

To ensure your safety, do not answer the door or allow into your home or residence any unknown individuals or business representatives moving door-to-door offering to sell consumer products, medical kits, vaccines, cures, whole-home sanitization or in-person COVID-19 testing.  Contact local law enforcement to report such activities, and, if possible and it can be done safely, alert neighbors, particularly seniors, of these concerning door-to-door offers.

Phony Charities and Donation Requests

Coming together in a time of need and extreme hardship is a testament to the Virgin Islands way and the compassion we have for each other; however, when disasters and life-changing events such as the current pandemic occur, be cautious as to where and to whom donations are going.

Unfortunately, scammers take advantage of goodwill and generosity by creating fictitious charitable organizations, seeking fraudulent donations by taking money which could otherwise go to those in need.

When giving, always do so by credit card or other secure payment processors.  Never give by gift card, wire transfer or another anonymous electronic payment processor. Be sure to research where a charitable donation is going.

Finally, Attorney General George said, “It is important to remember that misinformation and rumors create panic and disorder.  Always fact-check your source, messages and the businesses you’re engaging with, especially on social media.  Never provide personal information or money to those you don’t know or are not comfortable with.”

Virgin Islands Residents may report scams, price gouging or any other consumer concerns to the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs at [email protected]; or call 727-SCAM (7226) on St. Croix or 771-SCAM (7226) on St. Thomas.