As Chicagoans are cooped up indoors because of the COVID-19 coronavirus, authorities are warning people to watch out for a different type of invader: online or door-to-door schemers and scammers.
Todd Kossow, who directs the Midwest office of the Federal Trade Commission, says the agency has been sending warning letters to peddlers of herbal teas, essential oils and colloidal silver who are making false claims of preventing or curing the virus.
“We know there are a lot of folks out there making similar types of claims, and we are on the lookout for them. These types of claims will be under a microscope for the next couple of weeks,” Kossow said.
The FTC reminds consumers that there is no vaccine or cure for COVID-19.
The nonprofit Better Business Bureau, which offers its Scam Tracker reporting service for consumers, says it’s already getting complaints about fake discounts for video streaming and phone services as well as phishing emails related to proposed government relief checks.
Scammers are hoping an email or text promising a $1,000 relief check will get a click — and bring them a payday, says Steve Bernas, president and CEO of the Chicago BBB.
“Already there are fraudulent text messages being sent, claiming that [consumers] are pre-accepted to receive the cash, just click on the link,” Bernas says.
Congress has not approved relief checks.
Links in such emails or text messages are designed to install malware on the device or get the consumer to provide personal or financial information. The same goes for robocalls promising they’ll give you money quickly.
Other phony emails pretend to be from the IRS and are related to the recent announcement that the April 15 deadline to file federal income tax returns is being extended until July 15 because of the coronavirus pandemic, the BBB says.
Chicago Police are reminding people that coronavirus testing is only available in certain medical facilities, after reports in other states about fake “Red Cross workers” going door-to-door selling phony home test kits.
As with any disaster, scammers crawl out of the woodwork and adjust their deceptive pitches to consumers.
The same goes for phony charity scams related to the coronavirus pandemic.
“They follow the news, any hook they can get,” Kossow says. “You often see recycled scams that just rely on this new hook.”
Separately, the Illinois Commerce Commission has placed a temporary ban on door-to-door alternative energy resellers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The ICC also banned public utilities in Illinois from disconnecting households until May 1 or until the state of emergency is lifted, and it ordered the utilities to suspend late fees and adopt flexible credit and collections practices.