The FBI, the IRS and cybersecurity experts everywhere are warning the public to be aware of an escalating number of pandemic-related scams, fraud and financial challenges lurking.
Fraudsters are exploiting the uncertainties caused by the outbreak and using fear and vulnerability as a weapon.
Here are need-to-know tips to protect yourself:
• Hang up on robocalls. Scammers are using illegal robocalls to pitch everything from fake coronavirus treatments to work-at-home schemes.
• Ignore online offers for vaccinations and home test kits. At this time, there is no cure or vaccination for COVID-19, and there are no FDA-authorized home test kits. Visit the FDA’s website at www.fda.gov to learn more.
• Do not respond to texts or emails about checks from the government from contacts you do not know. If someone tells you they can get you money immediately, it is a scam.
• Do not click on web links from unfamiliar sources. These links could download viruses onto your computer or device.
• Watch for emails claiming to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or experts saying they have information about the virus. For reliable and up-to-date information and updates, it is always best to visit the CDC’s at www.cdc.gov or the World Health Organization’s website at www.who.int.
• Do your research before donating to charities claiming to help with COVID-19 efforts. Be wary of donations that require payment in cash, by gift card, or by wiring money.
• Governments and business are rapidly changing. Therefore, it is best to directly visit their website, rather than clicking on links or attachments in emails, for the latest policy of a particular entity.
The IRS is warning taxpayers to expect a surge of calls and phishing attempts tied to economic impact payments (formally known as stimulus payments).
The IRS is reminding taxpayers that scammers may:
• Emphasize the words “stimulus check” or “stimulus payment.” The official term is economic impact payment.
• Ask the taxpayer to sign over their stimulus payment check to them.
• Contact taxpayers by phone, email, text or social media for verification of personal and/or banking info saying that it is needed to receive or speed up their stimulus payment.
• Suggest that they can get a tax refund or economic impact payment faster by working on the taxpayer’s behalf. This scam could be conducted by social media or even in person.
• Mail the taxpayer a bogus check, perhaps in an odd amount, then tell the taxpayer to call a number or verify information online in order to cash it.
Report phishing attempts
Those who receive unsolicited emails, text messages or social media attempts to gather information that appear to be from either the IRS or an organization closely linked to the IRS, should forward it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Official IRS information about the COVID-19 pandemic and economic impact payments can be found by going to www.irs.gov/coronavirus. The page is updated quickly when new information is available.
Linda Vitale is an author and blogger who educates the public about scams, fraud and identity theft. Visit her website at prevent-idtheft.com.