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Medicare Beneficiaries Targeted by Scams During Coronavirus (COVID-19) Outbreak

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Seniors have been urged to take extra precautions amid the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), and now they have another threat to be mindful of: health care scams.

Criminals have taken advantage of COVID-19 pandemic fears to promote a number of different scams targeting seniors and Medicare beneficiaries, ranging from fraudulent tests to extortion.

Here are some current health care scams and identity fraud attempts targeting Medicare beneficiaries and other American adults. 

Fraudulent coronavirus tests

There is a shortage of COVID-19 testing kits available in the U.S. This shortage has prompted scammers to market fraudulent tests, especially to high-risk seniors and Medicare beneficiaries. 

One particular scam involves people going door to door posing as Red Cross volunteers and selling fake COVID-19 tests.

The Red Cross is not sending anyone door to door, and COVID-19 tests can only be accessed when ordered by a doctor.

Phishing emails

Phishing emails urge the reader to click on a link, fill out a form or download an attachment. Once you do, the hacker gains access to your personal information and can commit identity theft, among other cybercrimes.

These emails are often disguised to look like they are coming from credible organizations.  

One current scam involves phishing emails that look like official communication from the World Health Organization (WHO). The email asks the reader to open an attachment for the purpose of receiving updated instructions on how to fight COVID-19.

When the attachment is opened, the sender can infiltrate sensitive data stored within your computer. 

Both the WHO and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have updated information on their websites about COVID-19. No downloading of attachments is necessary.

Marketing fake COVID-19 vaccines

A vaccine for COVID-19 has not yet been developed and is still many months away, even in a best-case scenario. But that hasn’t stopped criminals from marketing fake vaccines. 

There have been reports of phone calls from scammers impersonating the CDC and asking people to “reserve” their COVID-19 vaccine with a credit card number. 

There is no way to “reserve” a vaccine, and any phone call claiming such a vaccine should be reported to the police.

Fake checks for economic relief

As of March 23, an economic stimulus package was still making its way through Congress and has not yet been finalized. But scammers are already using the prospect of free money against their victims. 

There have been reports of emails and phone calls from impersonators telling people that their economic relief check is ready and waiting for them. The scammers then request a bank account number, Social Security number, Medicare number or other personal information. 

If and when Congress finalizes a stimulus package, money will be directly deposited into accounts or sent through the mail. You should not expect any phone calls or emails related to economic stimulus payments.

Extortion emails

Scammers sometimes send extortion emails, making any number of types of threats to the victim. Some extortion emails threaten to expose private details of a victim’s life if they don’t pay a sum of money to the criminal.

Some extortion emails currently making the rounds threaten to infect the reader or their family with COVID-19 if they don’t pay up. 

Victims should not respond to any such email, and they should change any necessary passwords that may have been compromised.