Surge in robocalls push assorted coronavirus scams

Photo (c) Andranik Hakobyan - Getty Images

Schemes range from bogus treatments to work-at-home opportunities

Leave it to scammers to combine two of the modern world’s worst scourges -- the coronavirus (COVID-19) and robocalls.

YouMail, the call-screening app, reports a surge in robocall messages related to highly dubious products and services dealing with the current pandemic of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), which has dominated the news cycle over the last month.

The company says its researchers have identified robocalls that refer to the illness as a way to promote an Amazon work-from-home scam, an HVAC cleaning scam, and pitches for health services and dietary supplements.

They’ve also tracked a series of robocalls promoting political surveys; many other robocalls involving legitimate efforts by school districts and other agencies to issue relevant public service announcements.

Following the headlines

Alex Quilici, CEO of YouMail says the current upsurge in robocalls isn’t surprising since scammers often follow the headlines.

"The current robocalls we've identified are likely the first in what will likely be a quickly expanding set of robocalls leveraging the current COVID-19 pandemic,” he said. "As with all unknown or unexpected robocalls, it's buyer beware and we recommend consumers ignore them."

The HVAC cleaning scam could ensnare unsuspecting victims who don’t have that much information about the disease, only that it is a respiratory infection. The robocalls say trained technicians will come to your home and sanitize "ducts and air filters to protect your loved ones from the coronavirus."  

But unless an infected person has been living inside your home’s air ducts, the offer is useless. The coronavirus is spread by germs from an infected person, not by bacteria in air filters, and many of these calls are made without consent. 

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Targeting the homebound

Because of the virus, there has been a lot of reporting about companies urging their employees to stay out of the office and work from home. With this in mind, scammers are using robocalls to lead people to believe they can work from home for Amazon and make $400 a day. Spoiler alert -- you can’t.

Robocalls aren’t the only means of transmitting scams connected to COVID-19. In fact, phishing emails are probably more common. Many of the emails reviewed by ConsumerAffairs purport to be from public health agencies that appeal for contributions. Others claim to have a brand new vaccine or treatment that can be purchased. There is currently no vaccine, and none is expected until sometime next year.

Last week, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sent warning letters to seven companies that the agencies said were promoting unapproved products -- including teas, essential oils, and colloidal silver -- that “may violate federal law by making deceptive or scientifically unsupported claims about their ability to treat coronavirus (COVID-19).” 

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