BBB Scam Alert: Government economic impact payments trigger latest coronavirus scam

North Carolina
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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCT) The IRS announced this week that relief stimulus payments have begun to be distributed and Americans can start expecting to see them in their bank accounts soon.

In line with the distribution, BBB has seen reports on BBB Scam Tracker (BBB.org/ScamTracker) about government impostors calling about the checks.

It is important to note that according to the IRS, payments are automatic for most taxpayers and that no further action is needed by taxpayers who filed tax returns in 2018 and 2019 and most seniors and retirees.

If consumers did not opt for direct deposit in the past or are curious about other tools such as the learning when they can expect their money, BBB encourages them to visit irs.gov/coronavirus for more information.  

How the Scam Works:

You receive a message or see a social media post regarding the COVID-19 economic impact check.  You click the link and are taken to what seems to be an official website asking you to enter your personal information and/or banking details. It’s “necessary” to verify your identity and process your check.

As always, there are several versions of this con. BBB Scam Tracker has received reports of people contacted through text message, social media posts and messages, and phone calls. One variation is a Facebook post telling seniors about a special grant to help pay medical bills. The link leads to a website claiming to be a government agency called the “U.S. Emergency Grants Federation” (phony, of course). The site requests your Social Security number under the guise of needing to verify your eligibility.  In other versions, 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.” 

No matter what the message, don’t click! In addition to taking your money, these sites also can download malware to your device and use your information for identity theft.

Tips to Spot a COVID-19 Grant Scam: 

  • Remember, government agencies do not communicate through social media avenues like Facebook. So, be wary of unsolicited messages.  
  • Do not pay any money for a “free” government grant or stimulus payments. If you have to pay money to claim a “free” government grant, it is not really free. A real government agency will not ask you to pay an advanced processing fee. The only official list of all U.S. federal grant-making agencies is Grants.gov
  • Check for look-alikes. Be sure to do your research and see if a government agency or organization actually exists. Find contact info on your own and call them to be sure the person you’ve heard from is legitimate.
  • Don’t assume an offer in a social media message is from a real friend. It’s easier for scammers to impersonate real people on social media. Call your friend to verify they contacted you (and share this Scam Alert with them if they are spreading false information).

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