In the United States of America, the dangers of COVID-19 have changed the lives of many.
Shelter in place orders have been issued by governing bodies as well as social distancing mandates to reduce the spread of the virus. Dine-in services have shut down in restaurants and are now only providing pick-up or carry-out services. The federal government has passed what has to be the largest stimulus package in the history of the United States.
There is much opportunity for scammers to take advantage of people because of this. It is important for consumers to be on guard against criminals looking to use these confusing times to their advantage.
What is one of the greatest opportunities for scammers in this country? COVID-19 stimulus checks that will be sent to families and individuals by the government. But there is another potential target, the small business owner.
CONSUMER COVID-19 STIMULUS
A massive two-trillion dollar COVID-19 stimulus package was passed by the US Senate on March 25, 2020 by a vote of 96-0. By a vote of “Yea”, on March 25, 2020, the US House of Representatives approved the package. President Donald Trump signed the largest stimulus package in U.S. history on March 27, 2020, a bill intended to rescue the coronavirus-battered economy.
Several relief measures will go into effect because of this. Included in the package is a one-time payment of up to $1,200 to US adults with annual salaries up to $75,000 a year and up to $2.400 to married couples with annual salaries of up to $150,000. Parents would receive an additional $500 per child.
The payment amount is dependent on each individual’s income. For every $100 above the $75,000/year amount earned, the $1,200 payment will drop by $5. For married couples, the limit is $150,000 to receive the complete $2,400 check.
Your 2019 tax return will determine your salary if they have already been filed. Otherwise, your 2018 return will be used instead.
Also included in the stimulus package is a $250 billion extension in unemployment insurance benefits to workers who have become unemployed due to the coronavirus. Certain unemployed workers will receive an extra $600 per week for four months, as well.
SMALL BUSINESS COVID-19 STIMULUS
For small businesses, the stimulus package will provide $349 billion in loans. Due to the coronavirus, many businesses are under pressure financially and are looking for relief by means of a loan.
This is an opportunity for scammers to reach out to businesses and claim they can issue loans. These criminals will try to obtain personal information from a business in order to defraud or even ask for a payment.
This is an absolute scam. The government will work with businesses directly to issue funds to those who qualify.
Beware of scammers as they are already on the prowl.
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) has issued a warning to consumers to be vigilant as these scammers are already planning ahead to use government checks to steal your private information or trick you out of your money.
Beware of emails, text messages, or calls claiming to be from the government, say the Better Business Bureau. They will claim they have a check for you. Do not believe them. Don’t fall for their tricks. These scammers will try to get you to send them money of $1,000 or more in order for you to receive your check, says the Better Business Bureau.
More nefarious scammers may ask for your social security number or bank information, leading you to believe that they will deposit the money directly into your account using this information.
Some scammers are using email phishing to trick consumers into believing they are qualified for a COVID-19 grant. A very popular scam, according to the Better Business Bureau, involves using social media. In this case, a scammer has posted on Facebook a fake claim that seniors can receive a COVID-19 grant so they can pay their medical bills. The post will often contain a link to a fake website claiming to be a government agency called “the US Emergency Grants Federation”, which does not exist.
You will be prompted to enter your social security number to verify your identity and eligibility for the grant. Only there is no grant, and the scammers end up using the victims information to steal their identities.
Thankfully, there are ways to spot scams in this COVID-19 age. You can protect yourself from scams, if you look for these red flags.
You should never have to send money to receive money. Look out for key words like processing fee, advance, or deposit money. These are words common to scammers.
NEVER give out your financial information such as bank account information, credit card numbers or personal information like your social security number, over the phone. There shouldn’t be much doubt that this is a scam.
A government official will never ask you for your personal information over the phone. Neither would they ask for a financial deposit from you. Ignore and delete any text or email messages requesting personal information or money. Hang up on anyone you suspect is a scammer.
Government officials will not attempt to contact you through social media. Ignore posts on social media claiming to be from an agency of government. It is very well a scam.
If you are unsure if a legitimate government agency has contacted you, research it. A popular tool of scammers is to create fraudulent agencies that appear to be real. Verify online to make sure the agency that contacted you is indeed a body of the government.
You can run across a post from a friend that appears as if they are directing you to a government grant. Scammers can impersonate a friend as well as an agency of the government. The Better Business Bureau warns against such trickery. According to the BBB, it is more common that a scammer will impersonate a friend. If your “friend” directs you to a website asking for your private information, use common sense and do not provide it.
If you believe that you are the victim of a scam, report it immediately to the Federal Trade Commission. Visit www.ftc.gov/complaint to report the incident. With your help, the Federal Trade Commission can identify and arrest these criminals. This is also how the agency collects more information about new scams to alert the public.
For more information about coronavirus-related scams or to sign up for consumer alerts, please visit: www.ftc.gov/coronavirus