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COVID-19: Catching the Virus Isn’t the Only Way to Become a Victim

By: Jim Shriver

We are finding out the new coronavirus is claiming victims in more ways than just affecting their health.  Anytime there are times of great need it also opens the door for criminals to prey on those who are most vulnerable.  This has become the case with the COVID-19 pandemic.  With this crisis affecting just about everyone and the government combating it by approving the 2 billion-dollar CARES Act stimulus package, the door has been flung wide open for potential scams and cyber-attacks.  This is not only true for just individuals, as we’ve seen scams targeting small businesses as well.  Some examples include virus-related funding or loans and online listing verification.

 Here are some tips on how to spot these scams and protect yourself.

 According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC):

  • The government will not ask you to pay anything up front to receive money.
  • The government will not contact you to ask for your Social Security number, bank account or credit card number. They already have your information, so unless you contact them, do not provide this information to anyone suspicious.
  • Hang up on robocalls. Scammers are using illegal robocalls to pitch everything from scam COVID-19 treatments to work-at-home schemes. The recording might say that pressing a number will let you speak to a live operator or remove you from their call list, but it might lead to more robocalls instead.
  • Ignore online offers for vaccinations and home test kits. At this time, there are no FDA-authorized home test kits for COVID-19.
  • Fact-check information. Before you pass on any messages, contact trusted sources. Visit What the U.S. Government is Doing for links to federal, state and local government agencies.
  • Know who you’re buying from. Online sellers may claim to have in-demand products, like cleaning, household and health and medical supplies when, in fact, they don’t.
  • Don’t respond to texts and emails about checks from the government. Anyone who tells you they can get you a check now is a scammer. The government has begun issuing payments via direct deposits but is still working on details related to physical check distribution.
  • Don’t click on links from sources you don’t know. They could download viruses onto your computer or device.
  • Be wary of emails claiming to be from the CDC or other experts. For the most up-to-date information about the COVID-19, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.
  • Do your homework when it comes to donations. Don’t let anyone rush you into making a donation. If someone wants donations in cash, by gift card or by wiring money, don’t do it.

 The IRS has also put out information to be aware of:

  • Emphasizing the words ‘Stimulus Check’ or ‘Stimulus Payment’. The official term is “Economic Impact Payment”.
  • Asking the taxpayer to sign over their Economic Impact Payment check to them.
  • Asking by phone, email, text or social media for verification of personal and/or banking information saying that the information is needed to receive or speed up their Economic Impact Payment.
  • Suggesting that they can get a tax refund or Economic Impact Payment faster by working on the taxpayer’s behalf. This scam could be conducted by social media or even in person.
  • Mailing the taxpayer a fake check, perhaps in an odd amount, then telling the taxpayer to call a number or verify information online in order to cash it.
  • Receiving texts or emails claiming you can get your money faster by sending personal information or clicking on links. Do not click on any links in those emails or texts.

 In addition, the IRS will never:

  • Call to demand immediate payment over the phone, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill.
  • Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested.
  • Demand that you pay taxes without allowing you to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
  • Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card, gift card, or wire transfer.
  • Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.

 When in doubt, assume it’s a scam.  You do not need to do anything to qualify for a stimulus check (if you meet the earnings qualifications). There’s no need to sign up or call the IRS. The IRS or any other government agency will never call you and ask you to identify your personal information — they already have it.  The IRS typically uses mail as its main form of correspondence, and no legitimate bank or agency will ever call you to ask for your information.

 If you do think you’ve been targeted in a scam, here are some ways to report it:

 irs.gov/privacy-disclosure/report-phishing

BBB.org/ScamTracker

www.ftc.gov/complaint

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