County Attorney Ryan warns residents to avoid COVID-19 scams

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan reminds everyone to be aware of scams using the coronavirus to try to trick you out of your money or personal information.

Crooks are using the fear of COVID-19 as a way to defraud and steal from people via emails, texts, phone calls, and in one recent case, in person.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner warned recently about a scam where men get access to peoples’ homes by claiming to be city Public Works employees, saying that that their water lines had be poisoned with COVID19. KTRK-TV reported about a couple who lost an expensive watch and a ring to this scam. In addition to the fact that the virus does not exist in city water, Public Works employees will never ask to enter your home.

“It is unfortunate that bad people will use something like the coronavirus to commit crimes like this,” said County Attorney Ryan. “This couple not only lost precious possessions, they could have been seriously hurt.”

COVID-19 scams come in many forms—emails, texts or phone calls:

• Some will try to sell you tests, miracle cures or treatments for the virus you can take at home— there is no such thing.

• Some will ask you for personal or financial information, such as your Medicare number—do not provide any such information.

• Sometimes they will claim to be from Medicare or Social Security and ask for your numbers—do not give out those numbers. The government already has your numbers and will never contact you in an email or by phone, only by letter.

• You do not need to pay a fee to the IRS in order to get your stimulus payment, as one scam tries to convince you.

• And some will try to get you to buy a hot new stock related to the virus— this is a scam.

Government agencies, including the FBI, the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Communications Commission, the Food and Drug Administration and the Securities and Exchange Commission, are all working to shut down scammers. The FDA’s Operation Quack Hack has shut down hundreds of websites and online marketplaces promoting certain products, including fraudulent drugs, testing kits and personal protective equipment sold online with unproven claims. But new scams pop up every day.

County Attorney Ryan offers these guidelines that will help you avoid being the victim of any scam:

• Never click on a link or attachment in an email or text from someone you don’t know.

• Never provide your personal information (address, date of birth, banking information, ID numbers) to people you do not know. Remember, government agencies will never ask you for personal information or money.

• Do not be pressured into making fast decisions.

• Take time to research a supposed charity organization. Look at its website and check it out with the Better Business Bureau.

To report a scam or attempted scam related to COVID-19, please call Office of the Harris County Attorney at 713-755-5101.