As the federal government prepares to send relief payments to Americans affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, consumers must be wary of scammers who may take advantage of media reports on the initiative.
Moments of crisis provide scammers with the perfect opportunity to take advantage of panicked consumers. Consumers should be very cautious about what reports they trust and to whom they give their personal information regarding any government relief during the COVID-19 crisis.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) website -- irs.gov -- is the official government source for information on how coronavirus-related stimulus checks, or economic impact payments, will be distributed. The U.S. Department of the Treasury also has provided some information at treasury.gov.
Funds will be distributed automatically, with no action required for most taxpayers. “Some taxpayers who typically do not file returns will need to submit a simple tax return to receive the economic impact payment,” the website says, but Social Security recipients do not need to do anything.
The IRS will never call you to discuss your economic impact payment, request personal information or charge you a fee to receive these funds.
In addition to the roughly 170 COVID-19-related scam reports BBB Scam Tracker has received, it received more than 1,200 reports of government grant scams in 2019 and about 225 reports of such scams so far in 2020. These scammers -- who make contact by phone, email or social media -- often impersonate a government agency and request personal and/or banking information in order to verify the target’s eligibility for some sort of government payment. In reality, there is no money, and the victim’s identity may be stolen as a result of sharing these personal details.
A St. Louis woman told BBB in March 2020 she had received an unsolicited text message from someone telling her she could obtain her “US Stimulus check” within 24 hours if she paid $50.
BBB recommends the following:
- Do not pay any money for coronavirus-related relief checks. If you have to pay money to claim "free" government funds, it is not really free. A real government agency will not ask you to pay an advanced processing fee. Nor can you expedite your check by paying money; official government sources have stated it will take a few weeks for the first payments to be issued.
- Check for look-alikes. Be sure to do your research and see if an agency or organization actually exists. Find contact info on your own and call them to be sure the person you’ve heard from is legitimate. The only official list of all U.S. federal grant-making agencies is www.grants.gov, and the only official source for information on
- Be careful with unsolicited calls asking for your banking information. Scammers will cold call, asking basic questions to see if you qualify for a grant, and then ask for your banking information saying they need to collect a one-time processing fee and directly deposit your money. The IRS is in the process of setting up a free online portal where individuals who do not receive their tax refund via direct deposit can provide their banking information in order to receive a direct deposit of their economic impact payment. No fee is associated with the payments.
BBB has more consumer and business tips specific to the coronavirus pandemic at bbb.org/coronavirus.
Report any scams at bbb.org/scamtracker. For more assistance, go to bbb.org or call 573-803-3190.