COVID-19 Scammers Want Your $600

Jan 6, 2021

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The checks and direct deposits are going out for the new, $600 COVID relief payments, with more possible from the new Biden administration. And that means scammers are not too far behind.

“It doesn’t take long for something to come out in the public that scammer’s going to take advantage of it and try to get money out of somebody who is just trying to get by,” said Tammy Ward at the Better Business Bureau in Pensacola.

As always, there are myriad versions of this con, the most popular appearing to be the standard phone calls and emails with text messages gaining in popularity.

“Because they don’t have to talk to anybody; they can text you something and they put in a URL in there,” Ward said. “And the hope is that the person is not going to pay that much attention to it and just click on the URL – which can download malware – and that can be very damaging because most of our phones are smart phones and they contain a lot of personal information.”

Those targeted for their payments are instructed to click a link to "request benefit payments." That goes to an application, which prompts you to enter information to make sure you get your payment. The “application” is actually a way to phish for personal data and increases the risk of identity theft.

“And, not only are they getting the personal information, they’re also telling people they have to have a processing fee in order to get your stimulus check,” said Ward. “And/or, they could possibly tell them that they could get it quicker, if they actually pay them a little bit of money. And none of that is true.”

But with the numerous scams and cons out there, the BBB offers numerous ways to protect yourself. Once the bogus phone call comes in, the first action, says Ward, is staying calm.

“Hopefully you’re not even answering it; if it comes up ‘government’ or ‘IRS’ don’t answer it, because why would they be calling you?” said Ward. “Just leave that and check to see if you have a message. If you do answer the phone, don’t believe anything the person is telling you and certainly don’t provide any personal information.”

Another rule of thumb is do not reply directly to such a call, text, or email. If you think the call may be legit, there are ways to find out while protecting your data and yourself.

“Find out where they’re calling from – supposedly – and you do your research and find the information,” said Ward. “Sometimes that government agency telling you they’re calling from doesn’t even exist. So you don’t want to just rely on who’s talking to you on the phone or providing that email.”

Another cyber-minefield contain the large number of fake websites, designed to look like those of legitimate companies. Ward says it’s as simple as changing just one letter or number in a URL.

“And it’s very difficult unless you’re paying close attention to notice it’s not the exact website that you think that you’re going to – and the same thing with emails,” Ward said. “Do your research; don’t just answer somebody or provide information without first making sure what you have received is actually legitimate.”

And be wary of having to pay money for a “free” government grant or program. If you have to pay to claim it, then it’s not really free, is it?

“Especially these stimulus checks – you don’t have to pay anything,” said the BBB’s Tammy Ward. “I talked to several people that have already received their direct deposit, their money, and they didn’t have to do anything. And definitely you don’t have to pay somebody to get yours quicker, and/or get it at all.”

More information about scams in the wake of coronavirus can be found at www.bbb.org/coronavirus.  And if you’ve been a victim of a scam, you can help educate other consumers by reporting it to BBB Scam Tracker.