Where Coronavirus Relief Checks Go, Fraudsters Follow

Bev O'SheaMay 11, 2020
On a similar note...
On a similar note...

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If you’ve gotten your stimulus check from the Internal Revenue Service, great. Now, guard that money, because scammers are eager to pick your pocket.

If you’re still waiting for your payment — or running into unverified offers or communications — healthy skepticism is your best friend. As of May 7, the Federal Trade Commission had received more than 38,000 complaints related to COVID-19 this year, with consumers losing more than $27 million to fraud.

“As this deadly virus continues to impact every part of our lives, scammers are looking to take advantage of all the chaos,” said Kareem Carter, special agent in charge of criminal investigations for the IRS, in a press release from the Northern District of California U.S. Attorney’s Office. “They will prey on our hopes and fears to steal your money, your personal information, or both.”

NerdWallet Guide to COVID-19

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

Know the facts about your stimulus payment

If you have questions about whether you’ll get a payment and when, check the official IRS site.

Consumers with bank account information on file with the IRS or federal benefits systems should see an electronic deposit labeled "US TREAS 310 - TAX REF."

Paper checks are going to those without direct deposit information, but watch out for scam checks. The FTC warns that criminals may send official-looking checks for more than the stimulus amount of up to $1,200 for eligible adults and $500 per qualifying child. They then contact recipients and say they must transfer money or send prepaid debit cards to repay the overage.

It emphasizes that the IRS will not:

  • Overpay and ask you to return money.

  • Contact you via email, text or social media to gather personal information or “verify” your account. Forward suspected scam emails to [email protected]

  • Send you a password to use online to access or verify your account.

What the IRS will do is send a letter, via postal mail, 15 days after your payment is made, giving details and how to report failure to receive payment. Its website advises: “If a taxpayer is unsure they’re receiving a legitimate letter, the IRS urges taxpayers to visit IRS.gov first to protect against scam artists.”

Watch out for other scams

Fraudsters are busy trying other ways to get your money or sensitive information.

The FTC says there are some dead giveaways of a scam: Watch out if someone asks for payment by money transfer, gift card, Bitcoin or cash; asks for your Social Security number or account number during a call they originated; or says that there is a COVID-19 cure or treatment you can purchase.

The FTC says consumers should refuse to give out information even if the caller claims to be a government employee.

Here’s what to look out for:

  • Testing scams: If you receive an unsolicited offer of testing that asks for your health insurance information, be suspicious. Scammers use such offers to fraudulently bill insurance or federal health care programs for COVID-19 tests. If those claims are rejected, the victim could be responsible for the bill, according to the U.S. Health and Human Services website. Worse, the scammers could be gathering information for medical identity theft — a form of identity fraud that can have life-threatening consequences.

  • Demands to pay for a friend’s or relative’s care: Scammers pose as medical professionals treating a friend or relative and demand immediate payment. Don’t provide any information or payment.

  • Fake charities: Fraudsters use the images and stories of real people and exploit your generosity to steal from you. Double-check before donating. The Federal Communications Commission offers tips for verifying whether a charity is legit.

  • Grandchild or other “person in need”: An email, message or phone call says a family member is suffering from COVID-19 and needs help buying groceries, paying for care or getting food delivered. Don’t respond directly. Instead, contact the person yourself using information you know to be correct, or ask a mutual friend or relative to verify the request.

  • App scams: Criminals are creating apps that say they’ll help track the spread of COVID-19. Instead, they insert malware that can harvest your personal information.

  • Social Security threats: Social Security offices are closed, and criminals have seized the opportunity. They contact recipients, saying they must provide personal information or pay to maintain benefits. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau warns that any communication saying that your benefits will be suspended or reduced due to COVID-19 is a scam.

  • Employment opportunities: The advice of not paying to get a job has never been more relevant. With many people desperate for work, scammers dangle bogus job openings.

You can report scams online at ftc.gov/complaint.

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