Burglars in the U.S. are taking advantage of the novel coronavirus outbreak by posing as medical experts to gain entry to victims’ homes, multiple police departments have warned.
The culprits are reportedly dressing up in white lab coats and masks to pose as scientists linked to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), before knocking on doors and offering advice about the COVID-19 disease or even claiming to be able to test for the new virus.
Daytona Beach Police Department, which described the scam on Facebook this week, said there were no reported cases in the Florida city, but it wanted to be proactive.
“They’re attempting to rob the house once they get inside, sometimes by force,” it said in a warning.
“If you see someone approaching your house in a white lab coat or mask claiming to be a CDC worker, do NOT let them in. Please call 911 immediately!” the post added.
It is far from the only department to issue such a notice.
Yesterday, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office referenced social media posts about the same scam. “This is untrue,” its public information officer explained. “The CDC is not visiting residents’ homes. During these times, scammers are seeking opportunities to take advantage of consumers.”
Multiple warnings were also posted by Ohio authorities, including the Ravenna Police Department, Lorain County Sheriff’s Office and Solon Police Department, WEWS-TV reported.
“Unfortunately, some people will try and take advantage of the current situation. If someone comes to your door saying they are testing for this, close your door, DO NOT let them inside your home for any reason and immediately call the police,” the Ravenna Police Department said on Facebook.
Attorney General of New York Letitia James warned about the suspected scam this week as additional reports surfaced that robbers may have also posed as the Red Cross.
“We must remain vigilant against any scam designed to exploit people’s anxiety, especially during a global pandemic,” she said. “New Yorkers should know that no one from the CDC, or any other health agency, is knocking on doors to provide tests for the coronavirus for a fee.
“My office… will hold accountable those that violate it. I encourage anyone who believes they are the victim of a scam or predatory action to contact my office and file a complaint,” the AG added.
It’s not clear where, or when, the reports originated. Most of the police departments confirm it is not occurring in their areas, and it appears to often be a reaction to social media posts. As such, it’s also unknown how many victims exist, and how widespread the issue currently is.
Indeed, the warnings are not even limited to the U.S. Multiple police divisions in the U.K. have also warned citizens about the scam in recent days, also without elaborating on exact details.
“We have heard reports that people may be taking advantage of vulnerable by posing as door-to-door coronavirus testers or Police to gain access to people’s properties,” one Met Police division tweeted. “Nobody is conducting such tests. If anyone attends your property and claims to be testing, call 999.”
A spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police told Newsweek that it did not have specific examples available, instead pointing to a press release issued today about coronavirus scams.
“The majority of incidents reported relate to online shopping scams where members of the public have ordered and paid for personal protective equipment, which has then never arrived,” it said.
The media release continued: “Since the government has advised people to avoid unnecessary travel and stay at home where possible, we have received a small number of reports where people are using coronavirus as a guise to gain entry to homes and steal.
“If you get an unsolicited home visit from anyone offering a service and asking for payment or to be let into your home, our advice is to… request and check their ID and credentials carefully.”
Daly City Police Department warned this week that crooks are posing as the CDC and offering to let people reserve a COVID-19 cure with a credit card payment, as reported by The Verge. “There is no vaccine reserve program and the CDC is not offering anything of the sort.,” the agency tweeted.
United States Attorney Zachary Terwilliger warned on Wednesday that coronavirus-related scams were targeting elderly victims, although did not release specific details about investigations.
“Scammers have already devised numerous methods for defrauding people in connection with COVID-19,” a Department of Justice (DoJ) media release elaborated. “They are setting up websites, contacting people by phone and email, and posting disinformation on social media platforms.”
As the disease was first spreading, computer experts warned cybercriminals were exploiting fears, using the new coronavirus as a lure for phishing emails designed to steal personal information.