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One side effect of the coronavirus pandemic is an abundance of criminals trying to take advantage of people. The arrival of vaccines and a second round of relief payments bring new opportunities for fraud.
Knowing the latest schemes and keeping a healthy skepticism can help you avoid being victimized. Check out these scam alerts from trusted sources.
If you think you or someone you care for has been victimized, make a report at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.
COVID relief check scams
The year-end compromise relief package calls for $600 payments to most Americans, phasing out at higher income levels. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has indicated that the IRS would distribute payments via the same channels used for the first round earlier in 2020.
In response to scams surrounding those earlier payments, the IRS emphasized that it 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.
A good source of information about COVID relief payments is the official IRS site. Watch for updates there explaining details about second-round payments.
And check NerdWallet's COVID-19 and Your Money Guide for updated information on how the relief package may affect your finances.
Vaccine and treatment scams
Fear of COVID-19 and a desire for protection may push people to believe promises involving treatment, testing and early access to vaccines. The Federal Trade Commission advises consumers:
You can’t pay to put your name on a list to get the vaccine or pay to get earlier access than you otherwise would.
No one from a vaccine distribution site or health care payer, like an insurance company, will call to record your Social Security number or take credit card or bank account information to sign you up for vaccination.
Beware of anyone offering other products, treatments or medicines to prevent the virus. Check with your health care provider before paying for or receiving any COVID-19-related treatment.
“For most people living in the U.S., states and territories will make the final decisions on who will get the vaccines and when,” the FTC said in a news release. Check your state’s health department website for specific information, and keep an eye on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID vaccine information page.
High unemployment provides a fertile field for job scams. Warning signs include promises of employment or access to job openings not otherwise available. The Federal Trade Commission warns about scams that ask you to pay to:
Get a job or see job listings.
Gather supplies for a work-at-home job.
Get a certification that will help you get a job.
Such offers may include a money-back guarantee or testimonials. That doesn’t make them legitimate, and victims don’t usually get their money back. If it happens to you, report it so the FTC can investigate.
The FTC recommends taking your time and doing your own research before accepting a business offer. Be skeptical of success stories and wary of anything involving payment with gift cards.
Other fraud attempts
Fraudsters are busy trying other ways to get your money or sensitive information.
In general, be careful of any scenario in which someone initiates contact with you and requests personal information or account numbers — whether it’s by email, phone, social media or postal mail. You cannot rely on caller ID or a return email address to be legitimate; criminals have gotten proficient at “spoofing” those. If you’re contacted by someone saying they are a COVID contact tracer, take steps to verify independently.
Common schemes to watch out for:
Demands to pay for medical care for a relative or friend: Criminals pose as health professionals treating someone you know in order to demand immediate payment. Don’t provide any financial information or make a payment.
Bogus charities: The Federal Communications Commission has tips for verifying that a charity is legit. Always double-check before donating.
"Person in need" scams: Be suspicious of any email, message or call claiming a family member is ill and needs help affording necessities or paying for care. Don’t offer information or money. Instead, contact the person yourself or ask a mutual friend or relative to verify the situation before acting.