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COVID-19 brings scams and fake tests

Thursday, March 26, 2020

The rapidly evolving situation  surrounding COVID-19 presents vulnerabilities beyond risks to health. Scammers are taking advantage of the constantly changing information and updates by impersonating legitimate authorities, companies and organizations.

The City of San Marcos, Hays County and the Federal Trade Commission urge extra caution when opening messages from anyone via phone, text, email and social media related to COVID-19. This includes updates from city, county, school district, medical providers, businesses and organizations. Scammers will try to get you to click on links, open malicious attachments, or give out confidential information under the guise of urgency related to COVID-19. They also may present themselves as an authority offering aid or resources. 

There is a known scam pretending to be the World Health Organization that asks for money and personal information. Be wary of potential scams asking for donations or offering money to help. 

In San Marcos, a resident reported to have been called by someone impersonating the City of San Marcos Utilities demanding payment for a utility bill. The City of San Marcos will never call residents asking for personal information or payment, said Utilities Billing Manager Ernest Cavazos. If you call the City of San Marcos however, they will ask you for information to pull up your account. If you are ever concerned that you have been contacted fraudulently, the safest thing to do is hang up the phone and call in to the City of San Marcos at 512-393-8383 to find out. Cavazos says there are very few circumstances in which the city would call a resident.

The City of San Marcos is not shutting off utilities at this time, but residents still need to contact the city via email to request deferred utility payment. Late fees can be deferred up to 90 days if the reason you cannot make payments is related to COVID-19. 

“We are willing to work with customers in reference to those accounts that may need a little longer to pay back. We will work with them to make sure their services remain in tact,” Cavazos said. 

The city is working with community organizations that are offering assistance with paying utilities.

Communications Outreach Coordinator Kim Hilsenbeck emphasizes that residents who can afford to pay their utility bill should because the city is only offering deferred payment; residents will eventually have to pay their bill. 

While governments have discussed offering compensation to those affected, there are no government programs currently in effect. Anyone who tells you they can get you the money now is a scammer.

Don’t click on links or attachments in emails or texts related to COVID-19 unless you are certain that they are from a valid source and you are expecting that email. 

Be on the lookout for topics like:

•Check updated coronavirus map in your city

•Coronavirus infection warning from local school district.

•CDC or World Health Organization emails or social media coronavirus messaging.

•Keeping your children safe from coronavirus.

•You might even get a scam phone call to raise funds for "victims."

Remember that the government will never ask you for fees upfront, or for your credit/debit card, bank account number, gift cards, or Social Security Number. Be aware of scams offering coronavirus advice: there are no cures, vaccinations, or other credible preventions available at this time. 

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) warns about unauthorized fraudulent coronavirus tests that are being marketed to test for COVID-19 at home.

 The FDA is working to expand options for at home testing, but at this time the FDA has not authorized any test that is available to purchase for testing at home for COVID-19. 

 Taking a fraudulent test may give a false negative or false positive and prevent or delay someone from seeking medical treatment.

If you are aware of fraudulent test kits for COVID-19, please report them to the FDA. Reports may be sent via email to: FDA-COVID-19-Fraudulent-Products@fda.hhs.gov.

San Marcos Record

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P.O. Box 1109, San Marcos, TX 78666