COVID-19 phone scam

While it has not been reported to happen locally yet, Ames Police Department Commander Jason Tuttle warns about the potential of scammers taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Ames Police Department is warning community members about potential COVID-19 scams. 

Scammers can call with the disguise of administering sanitation supplies, free COVID-19 tests and fake tests for medicare recipients, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). 

The FTC and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sent warning letters to seven sellers of unapproved and misbranded products, which claimed their products — such as teas, essential oils and colloidal silver — can treat or prevent COVID-19.

“We see this oftentimes when the scammers will try to prey upon vulnerable people in vulnerable situations, and this is, of course, a time where of course we expect these things to happen,” Ames Police Commander Jason Tuttle said.  “We haven't seen locally, but I have seen some of our, you know, my counterparts across the country posted on social media.”

Scams can be identified if they offer treatment and cures for COVID-19, according to the FTC, and there are no FDA-authorized home test kits. There can also be government relief check scammers, which may ask one to pay anything upfront for the relief check. 

“The government will not ask you to pay anything to get this money,” Tuttle said. “[For example], you may receive an email saying you need to pay this fee to be able to get your government relief check or stimulus check. They won't ask you for your Social Security number or your bank account or credit card number. The government generally already has those things on final expense if you file taxes, that's showing us the information they're using to get you that stimulus check.”

Scammers may use gift cards, reloadable money cards such as PayPal Cash or iTunes, which is used because it is nearly impossible to reverse the transaction or trace the money. 

Tuttle said the government will not call people out of the blue and request any personal information.

“So if you didn't initiate a phone call or an email with the government or any type of company, you should never expect them to just call you out of the blue and ask for any personal information or banking information, I think that's what we'll see,” Tuttle said. “So they may be sending emails or text messages to try to fish for that information. And so again, if you don't initiate that phone call, just expect it's probably a scam.”

Scammers have no evidence to back up their claims, according to the FTC, and there are no approved vaccines or drugs currently available to treat or prevent COVID-19. 

“They’re fishing for information; they're going to try to give you that glimmer of hope, and then they're going to [take the] information, use it and, later on, to defraud you,” Tuttle said. “[...] I think, just continuing to be vigilant and educate yourself the best you can. And I would say, a lot of our information is coming directly from the governor's office that our department public health locally, so that's where I go in order to get my information about what's going on around the state right now at least. There are some really good resources, government resources out there to try to keep up to date on all this information.” 

Community members can report scams on the Ames Police Department website. 

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