This past year, scam artists have taken advantage of people's concerns over the coronavirus pandemic to defraud them of money. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), consumers reported losing more than $3.3 billion to fraud in 2020, up from $1.8 billion in 2019. (1)
Be aware of these latest scams.
Unemployment benefit scams
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there has been a surge in identity theft related to unemployment insurance claims. Over $5 billion in potentially fraudulent unemployment claims were paid between March and October of 2020. (2)
Typically, these scams involve a fraudster trying to use your personal information to claim unemployment benefits. Receiving an unexpected prepaid card for unemployment benefits, an unexpected state deposit in your bank account, or receiving form 1099-G for 2020 unemployment compensation that you did not apply for, report it to your state unemployment insurance office as soon as possible.
Economic impact payment scams
Scammers have several schemes related to the economic impact payments sent to taxpayers by the federal government. It is important to note that all first and second economic impact payments have already been sent out at this time. You may receive a third economic impact payment by mid-March.
The IRS is warning taxpayers to be aware of scammers who:
Use words such as "stimulus check" or "stimulus payment" instead of the official term, "economic impact payment."
Ask you to "sign up" for your economic impact payment check
Contact you by phone, email, text, or social media for verification of personal or banking
information to receive or speed up your economic impact payment
In most cases, the IRS will deposit economic impact payments directly into your bank account you previously provided on your tax return. The IRS will mail a check or prepaid debit card if they do not have your direct-deposit information on file. For more information, visit irs.gov.
Fraudulent products and vaccine scams
This past year, the Federal Trade Commission has warned about scam artists attempting to sell fraudulent products that claim to treat, prevent or diagnose COVID-19.
With the arrival of new COVID-19 vaccines, the FTC is warning consumers to be wary of possible vaccine scams. The FTC urges consumers to contact their state or local health department to find out how, when, and where to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Also, the FTC warned consumers to avoid scammers who:
Offer to put your name on a vaccine list or get early access to a vaccine for a fee
Call, text, or email you about the vaccine and ask for financial information
Protecting yourself from scams
Fortunately, there are some things you can do to protect yourself from scams, including those related to the coronavirus pandemic:
Don't click on suspicious or unfamiliar links in emails, text messages, or instant messaging services — visit government websites directly for important information
Don't answer a phone call if you don't recognize the phone number — instead, let it go to voicemail and check later to verify the caller
Keep device and security software up-to-date, maintain strong passwords and use multi-factor authentication
Never share personal or financial information via email, text message, or over the phone
(1) Federal Trade Commission, February 2021
(2) U.S. Department of Labor, February 2021