Relief Checks Are Coming, Scammers Are Already Here

Beware of criminals using the coronavirus pandemic as a way to get your personal data or bilk you out of cash.

Bev O'SheaMarch 19, 2020
On a similar note...
On a similar note...
GettyImages-636230570.jpg-coronavirus-relief-scams

Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This may influence which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own.

Scammers, too, are working from home during the coronavirus crisis, it seems, “and they will take any opportunity to take advantage of people — even a pandemic,” says Adam Garber, director of the consumer watchdog program at U.S. Public Interest Research Group, an advocacy organization.

Congress has passed the $2 trillion coronavirus relief package including relief payments to many consumers. But the Federal Trade Commission is concerned you’ll hear from a scammer before you get a check.

The FTC said Tuesday that coronavirus-related reports from consumers now total more than 7,800 since Jan. 1 — that's double the level seen only a week ago.

Know the facts about relief payments

Keep these things in mind:

  • The FTC notes no one from the government will call or email and ask for your Social Security number, bank account number or credit card number. They don’t need to confirm your birthdate. Anyone telling you they are required to collect such information so that you can get your check is a scammer.

  • The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which insures most U.S. bank deposits, sent out a similar warning, noting that it won't contact customers asking for account numbers and other personal data.

  • There is no fee for getting a relief check.

Beware of other coronavirus scams

The top categories of coronavirus-related fraud complaints to the FTC are travel and vacation related scams about cancellations and refunds, problems with online shopping, mobile texting scams, and government and business imposter scams.

Scammers have tried to mimic genuine communications sent out by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization and use them to ask for donations. The people who responded either got their money stolen directly or had malware installed that tracked keystrokes, Garber said.

The FTC also has sent warning letters to companies making false claims about products that allegedly help prevent or cure coronavirus.

Garber says he wouldn't be surprised to see predatory lenders offer“advance” loans on relief payments, making money available immediately in exchange for large fees.

How to protect yourself

It’s important to keep sensitive personal and financial data private to prevent identity theft.

Be skeptical about both phone calls and emails. Phone numbers can be spoofed so that it looks as if a government agency is calling you. Government email addresses end in “.gov” but some scams embed that into an email address by ending with “-gov.com” or something similar. With an official-looking email with government logos, it’s easy to be misled.

Rather than answering a call or interacting with an email, contact the agency directly. Go to the official website, checking for the .gov address, for information and contact details. Never click on attachments or links in emails. Those are just two ways to keep yourself safer online.

Check reputable news outlets and watch official government websites for information, rather than relying on social media. Follow the advice on the FTC coronavirus scams page.

NerdWallet Guide to COVID-19

Get answers about stimulus checks, debt relief, changing travel policies and managing your finances.

Helping others

What makes us so vulnerable, Garber says, is that Americans are both in dire need and feeling fearful. Both of those interfere with our ability to think clearly. Beware of forwarding scam emails or sharing misinformation on social media.

Instead, take proactive measures to help everyone: If you suspect a scam, report it to the FTC. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is a trusted government site with valuable resources and advice on coronavirus.

Reach out to older friends and family members. Social distancing may have intensified the isolation many older adults already feel, and that age group often is a target of scammers. Calls, video chats or other communication can keep them informed and make them less likely to talk with a scammer to relieve loneliness.

We want to hear from you and encourage a lively discussion among our users. Please help us keep our site clean and safe by following our posting guidelines, and avoid disclosing personal or sensitive information such as bank account or phone numbers. Any comments posted under NerdWallet’s official account are not reviewed or endorsed by representatives of financial institutions affiliated with the reviewed products, unless explicitly stated otherwise.