A woman holds an iPhone that shows a list of spam calls Phone Scams
This Aug. 1, 2017, file photo, shows a call log displayed via an AT&T app on a cellphone in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux, File)

Since January 2020, Pennsylvania consumers filed almost 14,000 COVID-related complaints and victims lost $21.8 million. The median loss was $444.

HARRISBURG — Coronavirus scams are spreading just as fast as the virus itself.

Scammers are taking advantage of the chaos and uncertainty surrounding the pandemic to con people out of their money, personal information, or both at an alarming rate, said Katrina Boyer, investor education coordinator with the Pennsylvania Department of Banking and Securities. 

Since January 2020, the Federal Trade Commission has logged almost 360,000 consumer complaints related to COVID-19. Victims reported losing a total of $343.12 million, with a median loss of $319.

In Pennsylvania, consumers filed almost 14,000 COVID-related complaints and victims lost $21.8 million. The median loss was $444.

It can be easy to fall victim to the various scams, Boyer said. Especially during the pandemic. You’re stressed and distracted, caring for your kids while taking conference calls at home. Your guard is down, leaving you vulnerable.

“It can happen to the best of us,” Boyer said. “Never feel embarrassed. This is a crazy time we are living in.”

COVID-Related Scams to Watch Out For

For a fee, scammers are offering guaranteed vaccine appointments, Boyer said.

Only legitimate healthcare professionals are scheduling appointments. And that is only after you sign up for one.

If you get an email, text, or phone call about signing up for a vaccine, contact your medical provider directly or visit the state health department website to get factual information. 

In another scam, people say they’re selling at-home coronavirus testing kits, Boyer said.

If you want a test, contact your doctor. They can help you find a legitimate kit to purchase. 

Also, Boyer said, do your research. If you can’t find any information on how the test works, where it is sourced, and what lab processes it, then it’s a scam.

Investment scams related to coronavirus cures and products are also on the rise.

Boyer said anyone soliciting investors must be registered with the state. You can check their registration with the state Department of Banking and Securities or call 800-600-0007.

These scams typically include:

  • Sense of urgency or limited time offer
  • Payment with wire transfer or gift card
  • Secrecy and the request not to tell anyone
  • Low or minimal risk with guaranteed high returns

Never provide credit card or other financial or personal information as part of an unsolicited phone call, text message, or email, especially if the person is pressuring you to act quickly, Boyer said.

What to Do if You Think (or Know) You’ve Been Scammed

Boyer said there are five important things to do if you’ve been scammed: 

  1. Notify your financial institution or credit card company if you paid by check or card.
  2. Report it to law enforcement. That includes filing a report with your local police, the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office, and the FTC.
  3. Check your credit report, Boyer said, to make sure nothing suspicious is happening. If your identity has been stolen, you’ll see it in your credit report.
  4. Talk to someone you trust. Oftentimes people feel violated after they fall victim to a scam, Boyer said. Talking to someone will not only help you feel better, but can also help ensure you are taking care of everything you need to.
  5. Keep track of everything. Document every phone call, conversation, and what happened so you can provide it to the authorities during an investigation, Boyer said.

“The chances of getting your money back are slim to none,” she said. “But sometimes they do catch the criminals.”