By now, many Americans should have gotten some much-needed financial relief in the form of a government-issued stimulus check, but a botched rollout of the benefits has made it so that some people are still checking their mailboxes and bank accounts, wondering when the money will come. But, even if you have your federal coronavirus stimulus in-hand, it turns out there may still be reason to worry: Scammers are reportedly targeting the recipients of the one-time payments.
In the last four weeks alone, more than 22 million Americans have filed jobless claims, and as many as 150 million households are reportedly eligible for the full or partial stimulus checks, according to estimates from the Tax Policy Center. But where there’s money, there is fraud, and scammers are reportedly waiting at the ready.
In one alleged scheme, fraudsters use a Facebook post touting grants to help seniors pay medical bills that links out to a phony government page that requests a Social Security number in order to “verify eligibility.” Another social media scam is a post advertising an "economic impact check" available to users who input their personal information, including banking details.
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) also reported that "Scammers claim that you can get additional money – up to $150K in one case – or even receive your funds immediately. All you need to do is share personal details and pay a small 'processing fee'."
"As this deadly virus continues to impact every part of our lives, scammers are looking to take advantage of all the chaos," Kareem Carter, an IRS special agent overseeing criminal investigations said last week in a press release in conjunction with the U.S. Attorney's Office, CBS News reports. "They will prey on our hopes and fears to steal your money, your personal information, or both."
The BBB scam tracker has also noted an increase in reports of people trying to access government-issued stimulus money from those susceptible to the ploy. "In addition to taking your money, these sites also can download malware to your device and use your information for identity theft," they wrote.
In an effort to clamp down on COVID-19-related money fraud, the BBB issued a list of tips check recipients can employ in an effort to keep their funds safe. For starters, the Bureau says, it’s important to remember that the government will never use social media to communicate with Americans about their stimulus checks, so be wary of all Facebook links and direct messages advising otherwise. In addition, the IRS notes that all deposits will be made directly into your account, or sent to you directly by mail — but they will never call you to confirm your information or payment method.
The site also notes that the only official list of all U.S. federal grant-making agencies is Grants.gov, and advises against paying any money out of pocket for a government grant that is supposed to be free. Lastly, they write that anyone who has already received a check by mail is likely subject to being scammed, as government-issued mail checks have not yet been sent out.