Almost any time something affects many Americans and becomes a highly visible, captivating, and ongoing topic, crooks try to use that topic to cheat, defraud and steal from the public. These topics can range from television programs, movies, sporting events, celebrities, crimes and disasters, but can include almost anything that can be publicized and hyped by the news media and social media.
Unfortunately, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic provides an exploitable opportunity for fraudsters to prey on people who are afraid, uninformed, misinformed, and even desperate due to how the pandemic has disrupted lives, companies and our country. Fraudsters may go after bank and checking accounts, credit cards and your identity, and they will use sophisticated software and highly trained and scripted telephone and email agents—who sound very official and legitimate—to trick us into giving them what they want.
Crooks are using both the disease and some of the U.S. government's response to it (such as Economic Impact Payments) to prey on vulnerable members of the American public, and may especially target specific groups such as older Americans.
Never give out or confirm confidential identity or financial information over the phone, on personal or work email or on a website until you can verify whoever is asking you for it. Keep in touch with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which tracks scams. Sign up for the FTC's Consumer Alerts to help spot scams at ftc.gov/subscribe and follow up-to-date information at ftc.gov/coronavirus.
Following are some basic tips to avoid scams based on the pandemic and government payments related to it:
Government Payment Scam Tips
- Do not respond to texts, emails or calls about Economic Impact Payments from the government. As big as it is, the U.S. government still does not have the resources to contact millions of Americans individually about their payments by telephone. Usually, the government relies on the U.S. Postal Service to communicate with citizens via official letters; for example, if the Internal Revenue Service wants to contact you, it will almost always send a letter.
- Fraudsters may contact you—often via phone—to say that you owe the government money back from your Economic Impact Payment, and that you can pay it back by providing your checking or savings account information or by providing the account numbers of gift cards. The government will not contact you by phone, text or email to ask for account information; again, the government most often uses the U.S. mail. Also, never follow anyone's telephone, phone text or email directions to pay what they say is a debt using gift cards. No legitimate company, debt collection agency or the U.S. government would ever allow someone to pay them with gift cards. Gift cards can be used to illegally launder funds to cover up where the money is coming from, and you cannot recover the money used to buy the cards.
- If someone contacts you to say that you cannot receive your Economic Impact Payment because your Social Security number is suspended, keep in mind that your Social Security number can never be suspended. Your Social Security number is assigned to you by the federal government, and except for very unusual circumstances, should be active and permanent throughout your lifetime.
Coronavirus Scam Tips
- Ignore online advertisements or emails offering vaccinations to prevent the coronavirus or medicine to cure it. There are no products completely proven to prevent or treat the effects of the coronavirus (COVID-19) yet.
- Be wary of ads for coronavirus test kits. In the past few weeks, the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced approval for exactly one home test kit, which requires a doctor's order. But most test kits being advertised have not been approved by the FDA, and aren't necessarily legal, accurate or safe.
- Hang up on robocalls—automated phone messages coming from a computer. Scammers are using illegal robocalls to sell everything from low-priced health insurance to work-at-home schemes, or to notify you that an important package couldn't be delivered.
- Be careful of trained call agent scammers. You may also receive calls from trained scammer agents; one message you could hear is that the caller wants to “move you over to a vice president" to discuss a phony undelivered package. Don't be rushed during the call, as the caller may say it is an emergency. Whatever the call (or email, text, or social media post) is about, remember that scammers try to rush you to do something very fast. Legit callers don't rush you.
- Watch for phony emails claiming to be from U.S. President Donald J. Trump, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the National Institutes of Health (NIH) or World Health Organization (WHO)—which is part of the United Nations and not part of the U.S. government. These government organizations would generally not have your personal email address or phone number and wouldn't be contacting most U.S. citizens. Use official, valid sites such as ftc.gov/coronavirus and coronavirus.gov to get the latest, true, accurate information. Remember—never click on email or text links from sources you don’t know.
- Do your homework when it comes to donations to charitable organizations supporting pandemic financial relief for unemployed citizens or groups such as healthcare workers. Go online to check websites and also call these organizations to verify them. Never donate in cash, by gift card, or by wiring money. To be considered a non-profit by the federal government, the organization must officially fall within the Internal Revenue Service's regulations, section 501(c); most charitable organizations have the specific legal status of 501(c)(3).
If someone tries to steal your personal information or money by pretending to be from the U.S. government, report the details to the Federal Trade Commission.
If you have given out information to anyone that you believe was deceiving you, and now one or more of your financial accounts is, or may be, compromised, immediately contact your financial institution to report the fraud. Delta Community members may contact our Member Care team any time via our toll-free number at 800-544-3328 or locally at 404-715-4725 if they have concerns about their accounts.