COVID-19 at-home test scams and fraudulent relief checks circulate hometowns

ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ7) Scammers have wasted no time in taking advantage of the latest developments in the COVID-19 crisis. The fear and uncertainty surrounding society during this pandemic has created new opportunities for scammers to take advantage of people.

"They're playing on our fears," Julie Wheeler with the Better Business Bureau said. "You know obviously we all are concerned. Everybody unfortunately is scared, which rightfully so, but they're playing on that."

Wheeler said even through this time of social distancing and stay-at-home orders, the Better Business Bureau is continuing to help people recognize and avoid scams. The latest is about the government stimulus package.

"The texts that people are seeing are saying that they have to get a mandatory COVID test before they're eligible for any of the stimulus money," Wheeler said.

This scam has shown up as text messages, emails, phone calls and even social media posts. A Facebook post has also been seen telling seniors about a special grant to help pay medical bills.

"They are super opportunistic, aren't they?" Wheeler laughed.

But this scam, like similar tragedy-based scams in the past, can be easily detected.

"The government is not going to text you and pretty much aren't going to call you or email you either in most cases," she explained. "So any time you receive something like that, reporting to be from a government agency, anything that is threatening in any way, obviously is a red flag."

In Pittsylvania County, the sheriff's office recently warned its citizens of door-to-door scams that included, "Scammers offering what is described as treatment scams to include offering cures, fake vaccines, fake COVID-19 test kits and advice."

Montgomery County also reminded residents on Facebook the New River Health District never goes door to door administering COVID-19 tests.

Countless communities throughout the region are reporting similar scammers.

"Whether it's a hurricane, a tornado or an earthquake, now we're obviously looking at a pandemic, they are the first ones on to jump in and figure out a way to play on people's fears and concerns and get their money," Wheeler said.

She added that scammers will do anything to get your information and your money. They might even claim to need your bank account number to deposit the relief checks.

"But you don't provide banking information based on a phishing email or a smishing text," Wheeler said.

And the same thing is true if you're asked to pay for a fake COVID-19 test kit.

"If you pay money like that for something that isn't legitimate through a medical organization, you're just asking for trouble frankly," she said.

Here are some other tips for detecting these types of scams:

• If you have to pay money to claim a "free" government grant, it is not really free.

• Check for look-a-likes businesses. Be sure to do your research and see if a government agency or organization exists.

• Don't assume an offer in a social media message is from a real friend. It's easier for scammers to impersonate real people on social media.

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