On Monday, March 23, 2020, the Office of Inspector General of the US Department of Health and Human Services (OIG) issued a Fraud Alert concerning emerging fraud schemes related to the COVID-19 pandemic. In this Fraud Alert, the government identifies a number of scams being perpetrated against the public and about which we should all remain vigilant. These fraud schemes include the following:
- The sale of bogus coronavirus test kits to Medicare beneficiaries to obtain recipients’ personal information (including their Medicare beneficiary identification number). This is a form of identity theft, and the government stresses that the sorts of services being offered are “unapproved and illegitimate.” The scammers want access to victims’ personal information in order to fraudulently bill Medicare and Medicaid.
- The sale of coronavirus supplies to obtain personal information that may be used to perpetrate additional fraud schemes. As with other potential scams, you should be wary of unsolicited requests for your personal information — including your health insurance beneficiary number and Social Security number. You should also be suspicious of unexpected calls or visitors to your home offering coronavirus tests, supplies, or other materials.
- The use of telemarketing calls, social media, and door-to-door visits to attempt to obtain money or personal information. The OIG also recommends that you be very skeptical of advertisements for coronavirus testing and treatment on Facebook and other social media sites. All coronavirus testing and treatment should be managed and approved by a hospital or a physician or other trusted healthcare professional.
- Other potential fraud schemes. Although this is not specifically covered in the Fraud Alert, if and when the federal government approves stimulus payments to the American public, there will also certainly be criminals who will seek to defraud recipients of those funds. For example, be mindful that the government will not contact you and ask you for your bank account information or Social Security number in order to award coronavirus stimulus payments. There may also be fake “charities” soliciting “contributions”. If someone calls and asks for bank account information or personal information to confirm eligibility for a government payment, to issue a government payment, or to request a charitable donation, the best course of action is to ask for the caller’s name, title, and call-back number and then contact the local field office for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) or the National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline (1.866.720.5721 or email@example.com) to determine whether the request is legitimate.