Tips for avoiding scams and fraud during the COVID-19 pandemic

The Auditor's Office runs the Good Government Hotline, a place to report suspected fraud, waste, and abuse by county government and its contractors.

Part of our hotline work is educating county employees about fraud red flags. As an extension of that service, we are sharing tips to help community members stay safe online during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Unfortunately, in times of crisis, fraudsters and scammers do not stop thinking about how to cheat and steal. In fact, scams often ramp up during times of crisis as criminals look to prey upon the anxiety and goodwill of people. You may notice an uptick in robocalls, and text or email scams during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) maintains a useful webpage with up-to-date information about various scams. You can also report price gouging and other scams to the Oregon Department of Justice.

Here are a number of currently circulating scams to look out for:

Counterfeit or non-existent equipment, treatments, or tests

Beware of online ads for protective equipment such as masks, COVID-19 treatments, or for at-home COVID-19 test kits. Reuters reported in early March that victims in the UK had lost 800,000 pounds ($1 million) to criminals exploiting people looking to buy masks. There are no approved in-home treatments for COVID-19, and there are no currently available FDA-approved home test kits for COVID-19. For accurate and up-to-date information of FDA action to address COVID-19, please visit fda.gov.

Fake emails or texts

Watch out for emails or texts that purport to be from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) or another authority, and don’t click on the links embedded in emails or texts without verifying the authenticity of the link. Links are often used to embed malware or in “phishing” scams to lure you into providing confidential information. For accurate and up-to-date information on COVID-19, please visit coronavirus.gov and cdc.gov/coronavirus

Be vigilant to help protect yourself from criminal activity:

  • Do not click on links or attachments from email addresses or texts you don’t recognize.

  • Links in email can often be verified by hovering over the link. Look for spelling errors or slight variations in the web address from that of an official website.

  • Never provide information such as social security number, birthdate, or other personal information in response to an unsolicited call or email.

Fake charity scams

Fake charities invariably pop up during a crisis. Fraudsters have no shame when it comes to parting people from their money, even to the point of creating fake charities to exploit those who want to help by donating money. Rather than being pressured into making a donation to a charity you are unfamiliar with, take the time to learn more about the charity. There are a number of organizations that can help you research charities. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has some tips on how to donate wisely and avoid charity scams.