Necessity is the mother of invention, and criminals are the ultimate opportunists. The coronavirus pandemic provides the perfect vehicle for grifters and scam-artists: the virus is new, situations surrounding it are unknown, and all of it preys on our deepest mortal fears. Just like case-counts and unemployment numbers, new pandemic-era schemes are on the rise.
The new scams come in all shapes and sizes: fake cures, toxic hand-sanitizer, vaccine-trial scams, products with false claims about prevention, and new twists on old tricks used by identity thieves. Among the most prevalent of the new coronavirus scams are relief scams: designed to either steal your stimulus funds, or otherwise use the promise of relief funds to trick you into sending payment or giving out sensitive information. Two new variants have grown common enough that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued warnings about them in January.
Here are two current coronavirus relief scams the FTC wants you to watch out for:
Scam: an email from the FTC says your relief funds are ready
An email appearing to be from Joe Simons (an FTC official) informs you that your relief funds are ready to be processed. There’s just one little thing: you must pay an old tax debt before they can issue the funds. The email comes with official-looking documents from the IRS and FTC. If you send them payment for the supposed tax-debt, they’ll even send you a remittance document that claims your relief check is en route to your bank. The problem? None of it is real. It’s not from the real Joe Simons, you didn’t pay the IRS, and no relief check is on the way. Even worse, they likely gathered enough personal information to put you at risk of getting hit again.
One giveaway is that the FTC has no hand in the distribution of coronavirus relief checks. Another is that the IRS will not call or email people about payments in relation to coronavirus relief.
Scam: phony invites to activate an EIP Visa
Like the first round of Economic Impact Payments (EIP), the ones being processed right now come in a variety of forms: direct deposit, physical checks, and EIP Visas, which function like a prepaid credit card. The EIP Visa is delivered in a distinctive envelope, and instructs the cardholder to activate it by calling a toll-free number to provide the last 6 digits of their social security number. This is all legitimate.
The scheme happens when a scammer texts or emails you with instructions for activating the card. Thieves will call, too, in effort to access the EIP card balance (or anything else they can get their hands on) by tricking you into giving up sensitive personal information. Remember, the EIP Visa is activated through the means listed in the paragraph above. Anyone sending you a link to activate it or requiring payment to release the balance is trying to rob you.
The FTC suggests you follow these four rules to avoid the creative and evolving ways thieves are using the coronavirus to commit fraud:
- Be suspicious of any call, letter, email, or text from a government official asking you for payment or information
- Don’t trust your caller-ID
- Never pay with a gift card or wire-transfer
- Check their credentials with the real agency
Criminals are lazy, but clever. Using the pandemic is a popular angle because it works. The FTC is taking action because tens of thousands have already been fooled.
If you have been cheated out of relief funds, or suffered from other crimes of identity theft, contact the professionals at The Law Offices of Jeffrey Lohman. Our specialty is fighting back against criminals that employ the latest methods in pandemic schemes and other crimes of fraud. Get help from us today.