The proposed federal stimulus package recently announced includes sending every American a check to offset lost income from the coronavirus health crisis. Scammers wasted no time in taking advantage of this news.
The Better Business Bureau Serving Western Virginia (BBB) is already getting reports on BBB Scam Tracker about government imposters calling about the checks. BBB offers the following information and tips for consumers to avoid these phony government grants collecting their personal and banking information.
How the Scam Works
You receive a message or see a social media post claiming that you qualify for a special COVID-19 government grant. With the news stories about the proposed stimulus plan, you figure it must be true. You click the link and are taken to what seems to be an official website telling you it’s “necessary” to provide your personal information and/or banking details to verify your identity and process your grant.
As always, there are several versions of this con. BBB Scam Tracker has received reports of people contacted through text messages, social media posts and messages, and phone calls. One variation is a Facebook post telling seniors about a special grant to help pay medical bills. The link leads to a website claiming to be a government agency called the “U.S. Emergency Grants Federation” (fake, of course). The site requests your Social Security number under the guise of needing to verify your eligibility. In other versions, scammers claim that you can collect additional money – up to $150K in one case – or even receive your funds immediately. All you need to do is share personal details and pay a small “processing fee.”
No matter what the message, don’t click. In addition to taking your money, these sites can also download malware to your device and use your information for identity theft.
“Whenever there’s a major disaster or health crisis, scammers follow. These government imposters play on human emotions like fear, urgency, and misinformation; which today are spreading as fast as the coronavirus itself,” says Julie Wheeler, President and CEO of BBB Serving Western Virginia. “We hope everyone stays safe and does their homework during these turbulent times,” says Wheeler.
Tips to Spot a COVID-19 Grant Scam:
Remember, government agencies do not communicate through social media avenues like Facebook. So, be wary of unsolicited messages.
Do not pay any money for a “free” government grant. If you have to pay money to claim a “free” government grant, it is not really free. A real government agency will not ask you to pay an advanced processing fee. The only official list of all U.S. federal grant-making agencies is Grants.gov.
Check for look-alikes. Be sure to do your research and see if a government agency or organization exists. Find contact info on your own and call them to be sure the person you’ve heard from is legitimate.
Don’t assume an offer in a social media message is from a real friend. It’s easier for scammers to impersonate real people on social media. Call to verify it was your friend who contacted you (and share this Scam Alert with them if they are spreading false information).
If you’ve spotted a scam (whether or not you’ve lost money), report it to BBB.org/ScamTracker. Your report can help others avoid falling victim to scams.