When federal officials announced that most Americans would be getting coronavirus relief checks to help them through some of the economic hardship brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, scammers decided they were going to get a piece of the pie.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says complaints about coronavirus-related scams have surged in recent weeks. On March 31, the agency reported it has received more than 7,800 complaints of fraud involving COVID-19, resulting in an economic loss to consumers of $4.77 million.
One of the most common complaints the FTC is receiving involves the coronavirus relief checks that Americans await. Under the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, most people will receive direct payments of up to $1,200 per adult and $500 per child.
“The [CARES] Act authorizes payments to taxpayers to offset the economic impact of the coronavirus,” said Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration J. Russell George in a public warning. “Previous government assistance efforts have been used by crooks and scammers who see this as an opportunity to defraud taxpayers in every way possible.”
To avoid becoming a victim of coronavirus relief scams, the FTC and other federal agencies urge Americans to be knowledgeable and wary of any communications they receive regarding the checks.
- The government already has the information it needs in 2018 tax records to determine who is eligible for a check, so you likely don’t have to do anything. If you haven’t filed taxes recently, however, you may need to submit a simple tax return to receive your check.
- You do not need to sign up for your relief check, so anyone who contacts you seeking personal information, such as social security number, PayPal account, or bank information is a scammer. Be aware of phishing scams in which, for example, scammers pretend to be from the government and falsely require you to sign up for check by entering your information. The government will never require you to share information in this manner.
- If you wish to directly deposit your check, communicate only with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as instructed on the agency’s website at gov/coronavirus. In the coming weeks, the IRS will be setting up an online form to help people with direct deposits, but it will never ask you to set this up via email, text, or phone call.
- Anyone that claims they have early access to the relief money is a scammer. The FTC says that some scammers are taking advantage of the lack of specific information about the relief as legislators continue to work out the details. Scammers may contact you offering to advance you the funds by giving them your personal info and money.
If you believe you have been targeted by any type of fraud, including scams related to the ongoing coronavirus crisis, the FTC urges you to report the details via FTC.gov/complaint.