OMAHA, Neb. – As the US government begins handing out COVID tests and face masks, Americans can be assured of the return of an old scammer trick: scammers impersonating official websites. They have done this many times with other government agencies and programs, from Social Security to Medicare to the IRS. Your Better Business Bureau (BBB) warns that new initiatives such as recently announced programs to distribute free COVID tests and face masks will once again bring out the masked scammers. Their goal is to acquire your private information to steal your identity and money.
“It’s disgusting that these bad actors continue to take advantage of this global crisis for their own economic gain,” said BBB Chairman and CEO Jim Hegarty. “Unfortunately, scams have increased in frequency throughout the pandemic, so we are doing everything we can to urge consumers to be cautious.”
When you search online or respond to an ad for free tests or face masks, you may find yourself directed to a website that seems official. The scammers may have duplicated the look – complete with graphics and logos – of a genuine government website. There will be a link you are prompted to click to request your own test or face mask.
Clicking on the link will take you to a form requesting a Social Security number or Medicare ID. It may also require you to submit a credit card number to “pay shipping charges”. The real page, however, will not ask for such information. This is a sign of a scam.
The distribution plan so far:
Operational details for the distribution of N95 face masks are still being worked out. Early reports indicate the masks will be available for three people at pharmacies and community health centers. There is no indication of delivery by post yet. The program should be operational at the beginning of February.
The tests, however, will be mailed to those who go to covidtest.gov or special.usps.com/test kits and request them. The current plan is four free tests per household. If a household needs more than four people and has private insurance, they can either have them paid by the insurer at the time of purchase or get reimbursed by submitting a claim to the insurer. You can get up to eight tests per covered person per month from private insurers.
Here are BBB’s tips for checking the legitimacy of a website:
• Domain name — Fraudsters choose domain names that are as close to the real thing as possible. They may swap two letters or use a slight misspelling. So read carefully for exact and correct spelling.
• Sensitive subdomains — Examine the spelling of the subdomain name. A favorite trick of scammers is to use a different one (from the legitimate one) in hopes that you won’t notice.
• Only your name and address are requested by real websites. The government program is free and requires no payment from you, even for shipping. No insurance details or social security number are required.
Take advantage of the government’s new free testing and mask programs, but be smart about the process. Do not fall into the traps that will certainly be set by scammers trying to scam you. For more answers to questions you can about the free test and mask initiatives, call BBB at (800) 856-2417 or visit our website at BBB.org. To report a scam, go to BBB Scam Tracker.