Scam and Fraud Alerts

The Federal Trade Commission has reported that scammers are taking advantage of fears surrounding the coronavirus, including through the sale of counterfeit products and the solicitation of money and personal information. When charities request donations in response to the coronavirus, Marylanders may feel duty-bound to donate in an effort to help their neighbors. Maryland’s Secretary of State John C. Wobensmith and Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh are cautioning Marylanders to be vigilant and to donate wisely.

FEDERAL RESOURCES

Trusted sources for updates on COVID-19 and ways to keep you and your family safe can be found on the CDC webpage here.

The Federal Trade Commission has a list of good practices to avoid scammers and disinformation:

  • Hang up on robocalls and don’t press any buttons. These are illegally used by scammers frequently.

  • Ignore online offers for COVID-19 vaccinations or home test kits. There are currently no known vaccines or products to treat or cure this virus.

  • Know who you’re buying from online, especially for in-demand products.

  • Fact-check information claiming to be from the CDC or other health officials. The CDC websiteWHO website, and Maryland Department of Health website will have the most up-to-date information.

  • Don’t ever click links from sources you don’t know.

  • Look into charities or crowdfunding sites before donating. Scammers will often try to solicit donations in cash, gift cards, or by wire transfer.

  • The government will not charge you to receive a stimulus payment, nor will it ask you for your Social Security Number, bank account, or credit card information.

FEMA also has a list of debunked COVID-19 rumors which you can read here.

STATE RESOURCES

Trusted sources for updates on COVID-19 and ways to keep you and your family safe can be found on the Maryland Department of Health website here.

For tips on how to give wisely, Marylanders can visit the Maryland Attorney General’s Office, Consumer Protection Division publication Consumer’s Edge Charitable Giving Tips.

The Office of the Secretary of State maintains a public registry of charitable organizations authorized to solicit in Maryland. For more information and to search the registry, please visit the Secretary of State’s charities database.

If you think that you have been a victim of a deceptive or illegal charitable solicitation, contact the Charities and Legal Services Division of the Secretary of State’s Office: 410-974-5521 or 1-800-825-4510.

Additionally, the Maryland government has a Maryland Coronavirus (COVID-19) Rumor Control website, which you can view here. You can also submit a possible rumor to be debunked and view a list of trusted state government sources on the website.

The Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition has COVID-19 information and resources on its webpage. 

COUNTY RESOURCES

Carroll County

The Carroll County Government has shared the following COVID-19 information from the Maryland Department of Technology, which you can view online here:

As the Coronavirus continues to impact the world, we are experiencing many changes in the way that we work. These changes include utilizing Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and personal devices to achieve our individual and organizational missions. Many users are working from home and have shifted the location and time of their work, which reduces our ability to identify unusual access. Hackers have noticed these changes, and are adapting their attacks to improve their chances of deploying ransomware and successfully attacking critical infrastructure.

Some examples of the techniques employed by hackers that you should consider, specifically related to the Coronavirus threat are:

● urgent emails requesting that you visit a website, install software, or reply with sensitiveinformation;
● emails that purport to be from a co-worker or supervisor, where the email address doesn’t match their work email;
● websites that you typically visit unexpectedly requiring the installation of software;
● emails from known or unknown parties, requesting that you forward chain letters, quizzes, surveys, or other information that is not part of your job function;
● and phone calls purporting to be from the help desk or other IT resources.

The Carroll County Fraud, Waste, Abuse, and Illegal Activity Hotline receives information from all sources, including county residents and nonresidents, county governmental employees, and contractors. Reports may be made anonymously. The County Attorney shall receive and evaluate concerns regarding fraud, waste, and abuse, and when appropriate, conduct an investigation. Click here for information about how and when to report.

To report fraud, waste, abuse-related concerns by email, phone, or web form:

  • You can email fraud@carrollcountymd.gov
  • Call the Carroll County Fraud, Waste, Abuse, and Illegal Activity Hotline 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 410-386-5030. Note: Callers can remain Anonymous.  
  • You can report fraud, waste, or abuse by using this online form.
  • You can also call the Carroll County State’s Attorney scam hotline at 443-340-5649. 

Montgomery County

The Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection (OCP) maintains a list of recent scams and alerts on its website here. Please report any scams to consumerprotection@montgomerycountymd.gov or to the OCP's Anonymous Tip Line at 240-777-3681.  

The OCP has shared the following guidance regarding COVID-19 scams:

There are no approved potions, pills, or treatment products to cure COVID-19. However, the online marketplace and social media advertise worthless “miracle” products from colloidal silver drinks to virus killing toothpaste.  Ignore online ads offering vaccinations too or investments in coronavirus treating companies. The FTC reports that pop up websites claim to have in-demand products yet never ship them. Worse yet, they may ship bogus or counterfeit products. Research the website with the word "scam" to see if consumers are complaining. The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) also warns that robocallers are wrongly claiming water is contaminated by the virus and offer unnecessary filters.  Air filter companies have been similarly warned about bogus claims.

Online criminals are sending email messages offering maps to Coronavirus hot spots, posing as influential hospitals and offering health information, or selling bogus cures and products.  Clicking on these scam messages may allow online viruses or malware access to your computer to "phish" or steal your personal or account information.  It is best never to click on unsolicited online offers and only click on COVID-19 news from a trusted source like the CDC, WHO, your local government's website, or other authoritative entity. The FCC has a robust accounting of the robocall, smishing and phishing scams seen to date.

Note, reports are surfacing that door-to-door scammers are posing as CDC, WHO or other government health officials. These entities are too taxed to be making on site health inspections.  Robocall scams offering free tests (audio) have also been reported; some focusing on diabetic patients.

There are also reports that scam robocalls work-at-home schemes are on the rise as are student loan forbearance scams (audio).  If someone contacts you about a government check, stop.  Those checks are in the development stage and you don't have to pay to speed up processing.  

Finally, You may be asked to donate funds towards research or to help victims. You should research these charities using Charity NavigatorGuidestar or Give.org. Additionally, make sure the charities have the proper license from your State. 

Additional Resources

The National Council for Safety, Wellness and Protection released a Guide to Protecting Whistleblowers, which explains how whistleblowers can protect themselves, remain anonymous, or consult someone for help. The guide also covers state laws and statistics about whistleblowers.