March 23, 2020 / 9:43 PM / 6 days ago

Partly false claim: People are offering scam door-to-door coronavirus tests to rob people

Update March 24,2020: fact-check extended with additional information from Colorado Springs Police Department and information on people featured in the photograph.

A widely shared claim on social media warns people that scammers are going door-to-door pretending to offer coronavirus tests but are actually robbing people. Some iterations of the claim say these people pretend to be from the Red Cross or the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Some of the posts say authorities have already been alerted to the scam. The claim has been shared at least 16,800 times on Facebook ( here , here , here ).

This claim is partly false. Reuters could not find any police entity able to confirm that people are offering scam coronavirus tests in order to carry out a robbery. However, based on the claims that are circulating on social media, some local police departments have alerted their communities to the possibility of scams.

The Broward Sheriff’s Office, quoted in some of the misleading posts ( here here ), confirmed to Reuters the office had not received any reports of this particular scam in their districts. “In an effort to keep the public informed, BSO has distributed warning information on our social media platforms”, the BSO told Reuters. The BSO says in a Facebook post addressing this claim that “the CDC is not visiting residents' homes” and that residents should be “vigilant in identifying scams” ( here ).

The Colorado Springs Police Department, which was also cited in iterations of this claim ( here ) confirmed to Reuters they had not received reports of the scam as of March 24, 2020. 

The Lorain County Sheriff’s Office said on Facebook that this post “appears to be fabricated”. According to the Sheriff’s Office, they have not received any complaints on the matter, nor had the Red Cross. “We reached out to the Red Cross and they also have not received any complaints or informed the public of such events”. The office encouraged citizens to be careful just in case: “Unfortunately, some tend to prey upon others in these unprecedented times. We encourage citizens to remain vigilant and certainly call the Lorain County Dispatch center for any suspicious activity.” ( here )

The Hinckley Police Department, who also publicly alerted their community of this unverified claim, also confirmed to Reuters that they had not received any local reports of it being true. They alerted their community to stay vigilant for general scams at this time ( here ).

No authorities in the U.S. are conducting door-to-door testing for coronavirus. So far, widespread testing remains difficult to access in the U.S. ( here ).

According to the CDC, tests for COVID-19 need to be approved by a healthcare provider ( here ). The Oklahoma chapter of the Red Cross confirmed on Twitter that the Red Cross is not providing this type of testing ( here ).

Some of the iterations of this claim ( here ) feature a photo of the alleged scammers dressed in white hazmat suits on a sidewalk . This photo does not portray scammers as claimed, but four teenagers in south Stockton, California ( here ). Satirical account 209 Times, which posted the original photo on Instagram on March 17, 2020 ( here ), confirmed to Reuters it was intended as satire: “It’s a joke by teens that turned into someone’s hoax which then morphed into a viral urban myth”. A person portrayed in the photo ( www.instagram.com/5stargoer.j/ ) also confirmed to Reuters this was intended as parody.

Authorities in other parts of the world have alerted members of the public over possible scams relating to the coronavirus outbreak. A local news report from South Africa reported that a healthcare provider urged people to remain vigilant after reports of criminals impersonating members of the Health Department and offering home screenings ( here ). Local reports out of Manchester and London in the U.K. described local police forces issuing warnings about criminals potentially phoning or knocking on homes pretending to be offering coronavirus tests ( here ; here ).

Reuters found no evidence of people going door to door offering to test for coronavirus as a way to rob people in the U.S. Similar criminal activity has been recorded internationally during this time of crisis, and various U.S. police departments have urged people to stay alert to the possibility of this or other coronavirus-related scams.

VERDICT

Partly false: While there are yet no confirmed reports of this happening in the U.S., police departments are advising communities to stay alert

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact checking work ( here ).

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