Couple shares experience with recent COVID-19 scam calls

Investigations

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – A number of government agencies have issued warnings recently about scams related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

WATE 6 On Your Side’s Don Dare spoke with a couple who received a call about an expensive virus test and how they responded.

The cost of the “test” was $400 – and the two calls were both a hoax, as there was no actual coronavirus test being offered.

The scammers were trying to take advantage of the situation the country is in and adding pressure, hoping for a quick decision.

Two calls were made earlier this week to Annie and C.M. They asked we not reveal their last name. The first came in the morning from a “Steve Nelson.”

“He left a message saying that I was set up to get a virus test. It would be 399 dollars,” Annie said. “And I needed to get that done because I would be charged for it. … I was frightened, $399. I thought my goodness. I didn’t think we had to take a test. Only if we wanted to take one. I thought it was all free that we go somewhere here in town and get it.”

Annie says a second call from the same number was made in the afternoon, from a man named “David Parker.”

“He said that he was the manager of this company,” she said. “And, I did have to take a virus test, I needed to get over there and get it done. It would be $399, and he would be sending me a bill. I would have to pay it whether I took the test or not. … Now he said you have to call right away if you want to cancel, but you will have to pay the $399.”

“I’ve never heard of a follow-up call about the same thing,” says C.M., Annie’s husband. “One guy calls you, then three or four hours later another guy calls and says that he is the manager of this place and you have to pay this one way or the other.”

At the Better Business Bureau, Tony Binkley says he’s not surprised about the virus related scam.

“All these people want one thing. They want your money,” he said.

A report released today by Forbes shows a huge rise in the type of hoax that almost caught Annie and C.M. and has likely cost others a lot of money.

“There’s been over 116,000 newly formed websites, newly created websites that are coronavirus created so far this year,” Binkley said. “Of those, 40,000 of them are high risk and 2,000 are malicious.”

About the calls she received, Annie has a simple message, “If they tell you that you have to pay, don’t do it, don’t do it.”

Both the FBI and the Federal Trade Commission have reported COVID-19 related scams, warning that one hoax promotes bogus cures for the virus; another sells health-related insurance and one scam offers “free” home test kits, but to be eligible you first have to provide personal information.

The bottom line – don’t respond to calls or messages in which you are asked to share your personal or financial information.

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