Scams In The Pandemic Age
Given the economic turmoil that has resulted as a consequence of the coronavirus, millions of Americans, those financially secure and not, are desperate to receive good news of any kind. Knowing that, scammers have been working overtime to devise ways to illicitly separate people from their money.
The following two articles – the first by Jennifer Leach, the second by Jim Kreidler, both of the FTC – contain good information for how to safeguard yourself against falling prey to malicious financial schemers.
Scams In Between Stimulus Packages
As we publish this post, a second stimulus package has not yet been finalized by Congress. While there’s a lot we don’t know, we DO know a few things about what scammers do when this kind of uncertainty is in the headlines.
If there’s another stimulus payment, you won’t have to pay to get it. Just like last time. Nobody will call to ask for your Social Security, bank account, or credit card number. Expect any stimulus program to look a lot like the first one: people who qualify would get money direct deposited, or you’d get a debit card or check mailed to the address you use for your taxes. The details will follow, if a bill gets signed into law. In the meantime, don’t pay to get any economic impact payment, and keep your info to yourself.
Don’t pay for job “opportunities.” Scammers know that lots of people need to find a job, and they’ll be happy to charge you for what winds up being nothing. Scammers also pay for online ads, promising you ways to earn money online. But do your research before you sign up — and certainly before you pay.
Never pay up front for mortgage help. In fact, it’s illegal for companies to charge you before they help you with your mortgage — but that doesn’t stop scammers from trying. If you find yourself behind on your mortgage, talk with your mortgage servicer right away to see what options you have. And whether you own or rent, it’s worth talking with a legal services organization if you feel like things are taking a hard turn south toward foreclosure or eviction.
They may be able to help you figure out a solution. If you spot one of these scams — or any scam at all, please tell the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.
“You’ve Won! Now Pay Us” Is Always a Scam
During these difficult economic times, it is easy to imagine our financial problems disappearing by winning a big prize. Who wouldn’t like to win a million dollars, a new car, or a vacation home? But if you get a call from someone saying, “You’ve won,” don’t believe the hype.
Here’s how it works. You get a call from someone who says they’re from Publishers Clearing House or some other well-known organization. They say, “Congratulations, you’ve won a million dollars, a Mercedes-Benz, and seven thousand dollars a week for life!” or some other amazing sounding prizes. Then they ask you to pay a “processing fee,” "taxes," or "shipping and handling charges," to claim your prize.
The scammers are trying to push you into a heightened emotional state, to knock you off balance just long enough to steal your money and personal information.
The fact is, Publishers Clearing House never notifies winners in advance. And anyone who says, “You’ve won. Now pay us,” is always a scammer. Period.
Consider these tips to avoid this scam:
- Legitimate sweepstakes don’t make you pay a fee to get your prize. That includes paying "taxes," "shipping and handling charges," or “processing fees.” There’s also no reason to give someone your checking account or credit card number in response to a sweepstakes promotion.
- Don’t send money transfers or gift cards, or give personal information. Sending money transfers or gift cards (or providing the gift card numbers) is like sending cash: once the money’s gone, you can’t trace it or get it back. The same goes for sending money by mail or using a money order.
- Don’t trust your caller ID. Scammers can make any name or number show up on your caller ID. They might use an official-sounding name like Publishers Clearing House or Reader’s Digest.
Scammers don’t just scam one person. Tell your friends and family about the scam so they can avoid it. Then report it to the FTC: ftc.gov/complaint.