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  • Thomas Schorn

Watch Out for Coronavirus Scams

Scammers are always looking for new ways to take advantage of people. Now they are using the same tactics to take advantage of consumers' heightened financial and health concerns over the coronavirus pandemic. Federal, state, and local law enforcement have begun issuing warnings on the surge of coronavirus scams and how consumers can protect themselves. Watch out for these prevalent coronavirus scams.


Schemes related to economic impact payments


The IRS recently issued a warning about various schemes related to economic impact payments for taxpayers under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.1 The IRS warns 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 the economic impact payment directly into an account that taxpayers previously provided on their tax returns. If you have already filed their taxes but not provided direct-deposit information to the IRS, you will be able to provide your banking information online at irs.gov/coronavirus. A check is being mailed to the address on your last filed tax return if the IRS does not have your direct deposit information.


Fraudulent treatments, vaccinations, and home test kits


The Federal Trade Commission is tracking scam artists who are attempting to sell fraudulent products that claim to treat, prevent, or diagnose COVID-19. Currently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved any products explicitly designed to treat or prevent COVID-19.


The FDA had warned consumers in March to be wary of companies selling unauthorized coronavirus home testing kits. On April 21, 2020, the FDA authorized the first coronavirus test kit for home use. According to the FDA, the test kits will be available to consumers in most states, with a doctor's order, in the coming weeks. You can visit fda.gov for more information.


Phishing scams


Scammers have begun using phishing scams related to the coronavirus pandemic to obtain personal and financial information. Phishing scams usually involve unsolicited phone calls, emails, text messages, or fake websites that pose as legitimate organizations and try to convince you to provide personal or financial information. Once scam artists obtain this information, they use it to commit identity or financial theft. Be leary of anyone claiming to be from an official organization, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization. As wells as nongovernment websites with domain names that include the words "coronavirus" or "COVID-19," as they are likely to be scammers.


Charity fraud


Many charitable organizations are helping those affected by COVID-19. Scammers often pose as legitimate philanthropic organizations to solicit donations from unsuspecting donors. Be wary of charities with names that are similar to more familiar or nationally known organizations. Before donating to a charity, make sure that it is legitimate and never donate cash, gift cards, or funds by wire transfer. The IRS website has a tool to assist you in checking out the status of a charitable organization at irs.gov/charities-and-nonprofits.


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, and instant messaging services.

  • 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.

  • Never download email attachments unless you can verify that the sender is legitimate.

  • 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.

  • If you see a scam related to the coronavirus, be sure to report it to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.

1 Internal Revenue Service, IR-2020-64, April 2, 2020

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