Monday, 20 April 2020

Millions of Americans are awaiting economic relief in the form of government stimulus checks—and scammers are developing new ways to swindle them out of that money.

The coronavirus pandemic has already captured the attention of fraudsters: The Federal Trade Commission says it has received almost 8,000 coronavirus-related reports from consumers, including mobile texting scams and government and business imposter scams. Consumers have reported losing a total of $4.77 million in coronavirus-related scams, with a median reported loss of $598.

“We predict that scammers are gearing up to take advantage of the stimulus payments," Jennifer Leach, associate director of the FTC's division of consumer and business education, said in a statement. She recommends that all consumers be on guard and vigilant to avoid becoming victims of fraud.

You can protect your coronavirus stimulus check from fraud in much the same way you would seek to avoid any financial scam. But during this time of heightened anxiety, a few reminders might be helpful.

Don't be the middle man. Scammers often look for targets they can use to transfer and launder stolen money. They might ask to send you money and allow you to keep a portion of it in return for sending most of it to someone else.

Millions of Americans have lost jobs in recent weeks, and scammers are banking on the fact that financially insecure individuals will be more willing to accept their requests. By participating in the scam, however, you could actually face legal consequences, and the scammer may elude capture.

Do not provide sensitive information in response to a call or email. Your bank, the IRS, or any other legitimate financial institution will not call or email you to ask for personal or financial information. But criminals will often create emails that look like they are from a legitimate financial institution, or make phone calls and say they are from your bank or the IRS. Then they'll ask you to provide personal or financial information they can use to steal your stimulus funds or other funds.

Never give away information in response to an unsolicited phone call or email. If you need to provide your bank or other institution with your personal information, you should initiate the contact, not them.

Don't accommodate a rush request. Scammers often try to convey a sense of urgency, hoping you will feel rushed into making a decision and provide them with money or information before really checking it out. Avoid falling for that trick. If something feels fishy, or if someone is trying to make a request sound urgent, take it as a warning.

Take time to do your due diligence and find out who they are. Call your bank or the FTC and make sure you understand who you're dealing with before you provide any information.

Believe you've been targeted by a scammer? Avoid responding, and report the fraud to your bank or the Federal Trade Commission.

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