On March 4, 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 public health emergency. In order to protect California consumers during this time, Attorney General Rob Bonta has made the following tips and resources available.
Emergency situations like the current COVID-19 pandemic create opportunities for fraudsters to take advantage of vulnerable populations. The Attorney General urges consumers to be aware of scams, including these common ones:
Fake COVID-19 Tests and Testing Sites: When the demand for COVID-19 tests are high, don't fall for a fake test or a fake testing site. To find an in-person testing site that is authorized to perform COVID-19 testing, use the test site search tool provided by the California Department of Public Health or the search tool provided by your county's local public health department. You may also check with local medical groups to see if they offer testing services within their facility. When buying at-home COVID-19 tests, only buy from reputable sellers. To help ensure that a seller is legitimate, look at the seller's online reviews, and do an online search of the seller's name plus the words "scam," "complaint," or "fraud." Additionally, if you are buying a test for at-home use, you can review the Food & Drug Administration's lists of authorized antigen tests and molecular diagnostic tests. When purchasing an at-home test online, protect your purchase by paying with your credit card. If you are charged for an item you did not receive, either because the item was not delivered or what you received is not as advertised, contact your credit card company and dispute the charge. Anyone who has been the victim of a fake test or fake testing site, should immediately file a complaint at https://oag.ca.gov/report.
Coronavirus Vaccine Scams: COVID-19 vaccines are being made available to the public free of charge. Because the vaccines are available for free, there is no legitimate way to pay to receive a vaccine sooner. Do not believe anyone who requests payment in exchange for the vaccine or for an earlier appointment date. Do not share your Social Security number, credit card number, bank account number, or immigration status to get the COVID-19 vaccine. No one should be turned away from receiving a vaccine for refusing to provide such information. Once vaccinated, do not share your vaccine card information. To learn more about the vaccines, your eligibility to receive the vaccines, or how to schedule an appointment to receive a vaccine, visit https://covid19.ca.gov/vaccines/.
Coronavirus “Cures" and Snake Oil Sales: Additionally, consumers should beware of unknown persons trying to sell products or services, online or over the phone, that claim to treat or cure COVID-19. There is currently no medication that cures COVID-19 and you should consult with medical professionals regarding any treatments. Be sure to follow reliable sources regarding updates. Anyone who has been the victim of a snake oil scam or who otherwise has information about products that are falsely touted as coronavirus treatments, tests, or cures should immediately file a complaint at https://oag.ca.gov/report.
Illegal Telemarketers Using Coronavirus as Part of Their Scams: Hang up on telemarketers or robocallers referencing coronavirus to perpetrate scams to steal money or personal information. Do not engage with telemarketers who offer COVID-19 treatments or cures, opportunities to work at home, placement on waiting lists for COVID-19 testing, or other similar scams. Many long-standing scams are now also being adapted to take advantage of fears over coronavirus, such as robocalls related to air duct cleaning or health insurance. Scammers also often make these claims by text message; do not click on these links or give personal information to these scammers.
Unsolicited Emails Referencing Coronavirus: As with telemarketing, you should be extremely wary of any unsolicited email providing information about coronavirus, even ones that claim to be from reputable organizations. These are likely to be scams or "phishing" attempts to get you to provide personal information or to infect your device with software viruses. If you accidentally open an email, delete the email and do not click on any links or otherwise engage with the sender.
Scams Related to Government Payments: In March 2021, the federal government passed legislation that provides a third “stimulus” payment. For most eligible taxpayers, nothing needs to be done to receive your payment. Most individuals will receive $1,400 per adult and $1,400 for each child, although there are phase-outs at higher income levels. For most, the stimulus payments will automatically go into their bank account by direct deposit. Others may receive payment by paper check or debit card. You can see images of both the debit card and mailer on the US Department of Treasury website. You can also check on the status of your stimulus payment (also known as an “economic impact” payment) at https://https://www.irs.gov/coronavirus/get-my-payment.
Don’t be fooled by scammers. Remember that no one from the government will ask for your personal information by phone, email, or text. Do not give out any of the following: your Social Security number, credit card number, bank account number, or other personal information. Anyone who asks for such information is a scammer. Additionally, don’t be fooled by scammers who claim that you were overpaid and that you must send them money back by cash, gift card, or any other form of payment.
Most individuals received the first stimulus payment in 2020 and the second stimulus payment in late 2020 or early 2021. If you did not receive one of these stimulus payments and believe you are eligible, the IRS states you can claim missing payments when you file your taxes. You can check the IRS website for updates about stimulus payments.
Recent Consumer Alerts and Updates:
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase in bogus charities looking to capitalize on people's desire to help. Attorney General Bonta reminds Californians to do their research before making charitable donations to any nonprofit organizations.
Check the Organization's Registration Status: Charities operating in California and telemarketers soliciting donations in California are required to register with the Attorney General's Registry of Charitable Trusts. They are also required to file annual financial reports. Confirm that the charity is registered and up-to-date with their financial reporting by searching the Attorney General's Registry of Charitable Trusts at www.oag.ca.gov/charities. You can also verify the tax exempt status of a charity by researching the IRS website and can check to see whether the charity's tax exemption has been revoked by the California Franchise Tax Board.
Give to Organizations You Trust: Do your research before giving. Review the charity's purpose and its financial records, available on the Attorney General's Registry of Charitable Trusts, and find out how it spends donations. How much is spent directly on the charitable cause? How much goes to overhead and employee compensation? Research charities in your community and support those charities that make a positive impact.
Don't be Pressured by Telemarketers and Ask Questions Before Donating: If you receive a call from a telemarketer, ask for the name of the fundraising organization, whether it is registered with the Attorney General's Office, the name of the charity benefitting from the solicitation, how much of your donation will go to charity and how much to the telemarketer, and the direct telephone number of the charity. If the telemarketer tells you the donation is for your local animal shelter, hospital, school, police department, firefighter or other public safety agency, check directly with the benefitting organization to confirm that they authorized the solicitation and will actually benefit from your donation. Don't fall for pressure tactics or threats. Remember you have the right to reject the donation appeal and if you feel pressured or threatened, just hang up.
Be Cautious of "Look-Alike" Websites: These fraudulent websites may look like the websites of organizations you trust, but will have a slightly different web address (URL). Similar looking URLs are sometimes purchased to lure in would-be donors. These sites may ask for personal information or install harmful material onto your device.
Watch Out for Similar-Sounding Names and Other Deceptive Tactics: Some organizations use names that closely resemble those of well-established charitable organizations to mislead donors. Be skeptical if someone thanks you for a pledge you never made. Check your records. Remember: current registration status with the Attorney General's Office does not mean the Attorney General endorses or has approved the activities of the organization.
Be Wary of Social Network and Crowdfunding Websites: If you are planning to donate through a social network solicitation or through a crowdsourcing website, such as GoFundMe, find out what percentage is going to the charity, whether you will be charged a fee, or if a percentage of your donation will be paid to the platform website.
You can find more information on our donation tips webpage.
Charities Fact Sheets:
Recent Charities and Donations Updates:
As most of the nation adjusts to mandatory stay-at-home orders, individuals are spending more time than ever on their devices and conducting even more of their lives online. The increased time we spend online can also open us up to cybercriminals, including some that try to take advantage of fears raised by the COVID-19 public health emergency. There are steps we can take to reduce our risk of falling prey to scammers, hackers, and identity thieves.
Avoid Email Scams: The most common coronavirus scam is a phishing email. Phishing emails are emails that appear to be legitimate and ask for personal information, such as your bank account, Social Security number, or your work log-in credentials. Recent phishing emails appear to be coming from fraudsters claiming to be the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization, sometimes suggesting that a vaccine or a cure for COVID-19 is available. Also, watch out for phishing emails that claim to be from charities seeking contributions. Remember that these emails may carry malware that can infect your device and steal your information. Do not click on a link or open an attachment in an email that you were not expecting or that looks suspicious. Furthermore, do not reveal personal or financial information in an email. If you think the email may be legitimate, contact the company to verify it, using contact information from another source, not from the email itself.
Protect Your Virtual Meetings: You can enable the privacy and security settings of your virtual meeting and conference software to avoid interruptions. For example:
Protect Your Accounts: Now is a good time to secure your most sensitive accounts from hackers. The basic username-and-password combination is not enough for accounts that contain information we want to protect, such as your bank accounts, social media accounts, and personal email. One way to secure them is to use "multi-factor authentication" or "two-step verification." For example, add a second layer of protection, such as requiring the account to send a code to your cell phone any time you want to login. Check with your bank, email provider and social media company for information on how to set up stronger authentication.
Protect Your Home Network: You and your family will be safer online if you secure your home network from outside hackers. Keep all internet-connected devices up to date and make sure they have the latest operating system, browsers, and security software. You should also secure your wireless router to protect your network against hackers. You can do this by changing the name of the router and the preset passphrase. If you have questions, contact your internet service provider for assistance.
Protect Your Children Online: While parents establish and adjust to new family routines and working situations, children at home are likely to be more connected than ever. Resources are available to help parents set boundaries and guide their children towards becoming good digital citizens. Information on how to protect children while they are online is available on the Attorney General's website here. Additionally, consumers can view the Federal Trade Commission's online guide to talking with kids about being online here.
Recent Data Privacy Updates:
On April 23, 2020, Governor Newsom issued an executive order protecting COVID-19 stimulus payments from garnishment, attachment, levy, execution, setoff, or lien. This includes the federal Economic Impact Payments made under the March 2020 CARES Act and the second-round of stimulus legislation passed in December 2020, the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021.
This means that no bank or any other debt collector that you may owe money to is allowed to take your federal Economic Impact Payments. If a bank or debt collector has already taken your Economic Impact Payments, under the Governor's executive order, they must refund you the money with no further action on your part. If you believe you are a victim of a violation of this executive order, please file a complaint with our office online at https://oag.ca.gov/report.
Information on the latest Economic Impact Payments is available on the IRS's website. Some people will receive their Economic Impact Payment by direct deposit. Others will receive it in the mail in the form of a paper check or a debit card. People should watch their mail closely during the month of January 2021.
Recent Protection of CARES Act Updates:
Many Californians are struggling to afford their student loan payments during the COVID-19 emergency. The federal government has taken various actions that may assist you. These protections were recently extended and are now set to expire on August 31, 2022. Note that these actions apply ONLY to your federally held student loans. This includes Direct Loans and Federal Family Education Loans (FFEL) loans owned by the U.S. Department of Education. It does not include privately owned FFEL loans, Perkins loans held by institutions such as universities, or other private loans. Contact your student-loan servicer to get more information, or log on to your online account at studentaid.gov.
Interest Waiver: All borrowers with federally held student loans will automatically have their interest rates set to 0%, retroactive to March 13, 2020, and continuing through August 1, 2022.
Forbearance - A Temporary Pause on Your Payments: All borrowers with federally held student loans will automatically have their payments suspended through August 31, 2022. Any auto debit payments made between March 13, 2020 and August 31, 2022 can be refunded to you. You will need to contact your loan servicer to request that your payment be refunded. Unless these federal protections are extended, your payments will start again in September 2022.
Because of the interest waiver, your balance will not grow while your loans are in forbearance. While your payments are suspended, these months WILL count toward your monthly payments for purposes of Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF), income-driven repayment (IDR) plan forgiveness, and other types of loan forgiveness, so long as you continue to meet the other requirements for these programs.
As the forbearance period comes to an end on August 31, 2022, if you expect that you may have difficulty making your payments, visit studentaid.gov or speak with your student-loan servicer about your options, including income-driven repayment programs. Payments under income-driven plans may be as low as $0 per month, and enrolling in an income-driven plan is typically more advantageous than stopping payments through a forbearance or deferment. If you are interested in income-driven repayment, you will have to apply and can do so online at studentaid.gov.
If you are already enrolled in an income-based repayment plan, you should carefully monitor your e-mail and regular mail for a notice from your loan servicer advising when you need to recertify your income-driven repayment plan. Remember you can recertify at any time - if your income has gone down, recertification may reduce your monthly payment.
If Your Federally Held Student Loans are Already in Default: The U.S. Department of Education has halted voluntary and involuntary collections on federally held student loans. This includes the seizure of tax refunds and wage garnishment during the crisis. This policy was first announced on March 25, 2020 but is retroactive to March 13, 2020. That means the U.S. Department of Education will return any amounts withheld between March 13 and March 25. The suspension of collections will last until August 31, 2022. Starting September 1, 2022, collection on your federal loans may resume.
Privately Owned FFEL Loans, Perkins Loans, or Other Private Loans: If you hold one of these types of loans, the above protections do not apply to your loans. However, many student loan servicers have voluntarily extended some protections and assistance to student loan borrowers during this time. For more information, go to the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation to see which servicers are participating and what protections apply. Contact your loan servicer to explore your options.
Beware of Student Loan Related Scams: Beware of scammers contacting you requesting a fee to suspend your student loan payments. The federal government will not ask for a fee to suspend your student loan payments, and the suspension of your federally held loans will be automatic. If a scammer contacts you, report them to our Office. Be aware of these warning signs to help you avoid student debt relief scams.
If you need additional information, the following websites may assist you: the U.S. Department of Education’s coronavirus website, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s website regarding coronavirus and student loans.
Recent Student Loan Updates:
Unemployment Insurance: If you lose your job or have your hours reduced due to COVID-19-related reasons, you may be eligible for unemployment benefits. Visit the Employment Development Department’s (EDD) website for additional information about unemployment benefits, and to file a claim.
Health Insurance: If you lose your health insurance as a result of COVID-19, you may be eligible to sign up for low-cost or no-cost health insurance coverage under Covered California. You can find more information on Covered California’s website.
Other Financial Support: Information about California’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program can be found at https://www.cdss.ca.gov/inforesources/calfresh.
Credit Reports: You may be worried about how the COVID-19 crisis is affecting your credit report. For more information go to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on how to protect your credit during the pandemic.
Financial Tips: It can feel overwhelming to manage your finances in normal times, let alone during the COVID-19 crisis. A list of helpful tips are available from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on how to manage your debt.
The Attorney General recognizes that many families across the state are still facing difficulty affording rent as the result of layoffs, reduced working hours, and other impacts of COVID-19-related economic shock.
Many tenants have protections from high rent increases and some types of evictions, as discussed below. However, the protections from the eviction moratoriums that were in place because of the pandemic have largely expired. Beginning April 1, 2022, tenants should make every effort to pay their rent in full in order to avoid eviction. This is true even if you have applied for government rental assistance for rent you owe for earlier months. If you know you cannot afford your rent, or if you are being threatened with eviction, you should seek legal advice right away. To find a legal aid office near where you live, please visit www.LawHelpCA.org.
Tenant Protections Related to COVID-19:
After April 1, 2022, tenants will have limited protections related to COVID-19, which are described below. Even if you think these protections apply to you, if you receive an eviction lawsuit, don't ignore it! It is very important that you respond to the eviction case immediately. You may seek free legal help from a legal aid office near you (www.LawHelpCA.org).
Landlords should be aware of the following requirements relating to evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic:
Statewide Rent Caps and Eviction Protections (AB 1482)
In 2019, California enacted the Tenant Protection Act (AB 1482), which created significant new protections for tenants. Both tenants and landlords should be aware of the requirements of this new law.
Limits on Rent Increases
The Tenant Protection Act caps rent increases for most tenants in California. Landlords cannot raise rent annually more than 5% plus inflation according to the regional Consumer Price Index, for a maximum increase of 10% each year. If a tenant moves out, the landlord is free to charge any rent for the next tenant who moves in.
The Tenant Protection Act also creates new statewide eviction protections for tenants who have been living in their units for at least a year. The law sets out two kinds of evictions: "at fault" evictions and "no fault" evictions.
At fault evictions include:
No fault evictions include:
Landlords can only evict a tenant for one of the reasons listed above. Some of these reasons have their own specific requirements, and landlords should consult with an attorney to make sure they are complying with the law. Lying about the reason for evicting a tenant is illegal.
What Units Are Covered by the Tenant Protection Act?
ALL rental units in the state except:
Other Landlord Responsibilities:
Landlords and those who act on their behalf, such as property managers and attorneys, are responsible for complying with all state and local laws, including the following important points.
Getting Legal Help
If you are a tenant who needs legal help, you should know that many legal aid offices remain open by phone or email. To find a legal aid office near where you live, please visit www.LawHelpCA.org.
Get in Touch with Your Loan Servicer: If you are having trouble making mortgage payments because of the COVID-19 public health emergency, or to apply for a loan modification or other option to avoid foreclosure, contact your servicer as soon as possible.
See If You Qualify for Mortgage Relief Funds: Homeowners who have fallen behind on mortgage payments due to COVID-19-related financial hardship may be eligible for relief through California's Mortgage Relief Program. The program will pay a total of $1 billion to cover missed mortgage payments during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a one-time grant that eligible homeowners will not have to repay. To find out if you are eligible and to apply, see the California Mortgage Relief Program web page.
Forbearances: Forbearance plans allow you to temporarily lower or postpone your monthly mortgage payment for a certain period of time, but you must make up those payments later. To learn more about forbearances, see the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's What Is Forbearance web page.
Some homeowners with a federally backed mortgage who are experiencing financial hardship due to COVID-19 may be able to get a forbearance. Federally backed mortgages include loans insured, issued, or guaranteed by federal agencies like the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), or Department of Agriculture (USDA), as well as loans purchased or securitized by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. To find out if your loan is federally backed or which agency backs it, contact your servicer or see the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's Relief You May Qualify For web page.
To get a forbearance, you must contact your servicer to ask for it. The deadline for asking for a forbearance and the length of forbearance depends on which federal agency backs your mortgage. Also, until October 1, 2022, any servicer contacting delinquent borrowers must provide information about COVID-19 forbearance programs and how to find contact information for homeownership counseling services.
If you fall into one of the categories above, your servicer must grant your request without requiring documentation of financial hardship and without charging additional fees, penalties, or interest (beyond scheduled amounts).
Even if you do not have a federally backed mortgage, many financial institutions have agreed to provide forbearances or other relief to homeowners impacted by COVID-19. Contact your servicer to discuss your options.
Before agreeing to a forbearance or other option, make sure you understand the terms of any forbearance plan or other options offered. Under some forbearance plans, you must resume your regular monthly payments and immediately pay back the postponed payments unless you qualify for a different option. You may have different repayment options, including making up the payments at the end of your loan term. Make sure you know what the repayment terms are and what options you will have if you are still struggling to make payments after the forbearance period. Also check to see if your servicer will waive any late fees or penalties and refrain from negative credit reporting. Servicers must waive certain existing fees (including late fees, penalties, and stop-payment fees) incurred on or after March 1, 2020 for borrowers offered certain COVID-19-related loan modification options based on the evaluation of an incomplete loss mitigation application.
Exiting forbearance: Before your mortgage forbearance ends, you should reach out to your servicer to plan next steps and discuss how you can repay your forbearance. Additionally, until October 1, 2022, whenever a servicer establishes live contact with a borrower in a forbearance program made available to borrowers experiencing a COVID-19-related hardship, the servicer must tell the borrower about any loss mitigation options the servicer offers, and information on how to find options for homeownership counseling services.
In general, you can submit a loss mitigation application to your servicer to see if you are eligible for any alternatives to foreclosure. Once you submit an application, your servicer will tell you if it needs additional information or documents to make that application "complete." Once you submit a complete application, your servicer will generally evaluate it to see if you qualify for a repayment plan, loan modification, short sale, or other option that will allow you to avoid foreclosure. Pursuant to new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) rules, your servicer may also offer you streamlined COVID-19-related loss mitigation options based on an evaluation of an incomplete loss mitigation application. These options may be explained to you by phone, so be sure to ask for all of the information discussed to be provided to you in writing.
Keep Detailed Records and Review Your Mortgage Statements: It is important to keep documentation about how COVID-19 has hurt your ability to make mortgage payments, for example due to job loss, reduced hours, medical expenses, or caring for a sick family member. You may need to show your servicer this documentation to get relief. If you get a forbearance or other mortgage relief option, make sure to get all the terms in writing from your servicer. Also make sure to review your mortgage statements and check your credit reports to make sure there are no errors. You can get a free copy of your credit report at annualcreditreport.com.
Know Your Rights: California's Homeowner Bill of Rights provides protections to homeowners facing foreclosure. To learn more about these rights, please see the Homeowner Bill of Rights. Until January 1, 2023, the COVID-19 Tenant Relief Act of 2020 extends these protections to homeowners who rent out their property so long as they have no more than three residential properties, the property is no more than four units, and the property is occupied by a tenant who has lived there since before March 4, 2020 and who cannot pay rent because of a COVID-19 related financial hardship. To learn more about federal protections extended to homeowners through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and CFPB's 2021 Mortgage Servicing COVID-19 Rule, which became effective August 31, 2021, please see CFPB's Help for Homeowners resource page.
Beware of Scams: Fraudsters taking advantage of the COVID-19 crisis may try to take your money or even your home by claiming they can help you get mortgage relief or stop foreclosure. Be wary of anyone who charges upfront fees, guarantees results, or asks you to make your mortgage payments to them. Before working with anyone who says they can help you with your mortgage, and to learn about free assistance, please see Loan Modification Fraud and Foreclosure Rescue Scams.
For more information about mortgage relief and foreclosure alternatives, go to the Housing Is Key web page.
Recent Mortgages and Foreclosures Updates
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact on California employees and their families. Whether you are facing unemployment, or unsafe working conditions, you are entitled to certain benefits and protections.
You have the right to be healthy and safe at work: All workers in California, regardless of immigration status, have the right to protection from safety and health hazards, including: COVID-19, the right to report an unsafe workplace, and the right refuse to work in unsafe conditions. It is illegal for your employer to reduce your hours, fire you, or retaliate against you for exercising your labor rights. To learn more about health and safety in the workplace, see California’s “Safer at Work” website.
Unemployment Insurance Benefits: If you lose your job or have your hours reduced due to COVID-19-related reasons, you may be eligible for partial wage replacement benefits. Visit the Employment Development Department’s (EDD) website for additional information about unemployment benefits, and to file a claim.
Disability Benefits: If you’re unable to work due to medical quarantine or illness related to COVID-19 (certified by a medical professional), you may be eligible for state disability insurance benefits. Visit the EDD’s Disability Insurance webpage for additional information.
Paid Family Leave: If you’re unable to work because you are caring for an ill or quarantined family member with COVID-19 (certified by a medical professional), you may be eligible for paid family leave benefits. Visit the EDD’s Paid Family Leave webpage for additional information.
Workers’ Compensation Benefits: If you were infected with COVID-19 at work, you may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. Visit the Division of Workers’ Compensation website for additional information.
Workers and employers affected by, impacted by, or navigating questions by COVID-19, can find additional guidance and resources on the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency’s website.
Recent Updates on Workers' Rights:
COVID19.ca.gov has the latest information on coronavirus preparedness and response in California. Critical health information is available from the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization.