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ACCC Warns Consumers on COVID-19 Scams | #coronavirus | #scams | #covid19

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American
Consumer Credit Counseling warned today that consumers are at increased risk of
being scammed as economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic creates an
environment ripe for financial predators. 

Federal
stimulus check rip-offs, false small business loan programs, and bogus
treatments for COVID-19 are just some of the schemes that predators are using
to attack consumers’ finances at a time when so many Americans are struggling. 

“The number
of ways people are being targeted by one COVID-19 related scam or another is
alarming,” said Steve Trumble, President and CEO of American
Consumer Credit Counseling.
“Our economy has taken a record hit from the
pandemic, and millions of American households are already hurting financially
from lost income, layoffs, business shutdowns and other factors.” 

The U.S. unemployment rate increased
sharply from 3.6 percent in January to 13.3 percent in May as the financial
impact from COVID-19 sent shock waves through the American economy. Other metrics
such as public transit and airline ridership continue to be dismal, though
there are faint signs of improvement and renewed activity in areas such as new
mortgage applications and the recovering stock market. 

But ACCC is
coaching its clients on how to avoid financial scams as more and more COVID-19
rip-offs flood the market through social media and other digital promotions, as
well as direct email marketing and mobile phone and texting campaigns.

Scams to be
on the lookout for include:

·   
Phony
Social Security communications

The Social Security Administration is not suspending or decreasing Social
Security benefit payments or Supplemental Security Income payments due to the
current COVID-19 pandemic, but scammers are using that fear to prey on certain
consumers. The scam attempts to convince a target consumer that they must make
a payment or turn over personal data to maintain benefits. “Don’t fall for it,”
Trumble says. “The Social Security Administration doesn’t call you unannounced
or text. Ever.”

·      
Phony
people in need

Major disasters and disruptive
world events often increase the occurrence of scams built around imaginary
people in need. They might even pose as a distant relative or friend of a
friend. The giveaway is always the same: an urgent request for money and
questionable bank transaction instructions – often with a plea for secrecy.
“The actual need worldwide for genuine emergency assistance is astronomical,”
Trumble says. “The Red Cross, Salvation Army, United Way and many local and
regional organizations are safe and very impactful ways to help real people.”

·      
Bogus
COVID-19 cures, treatments and testing

The Federal Trade Commission has
said there is an increase in scams preying on Americans looking for convenient
COVID-19 tests and miracle cures or treatments.  Consider all such promotions as bogus or high
risk for a scam. “No decision about your healthcare – especially concerning
COVID-19 – should be made based on a marketing ploy,” Trumble says. “Contact
your primary healthcare provider as a first step.”

·      
Stimulus
check rip-offs

Don’t fall for email offers, phone calls, or texts
promising expedited payment of federal stimulus funds. It’s a scam. Go to IRS.gov to track the
status of your relief payment and to understand the criteria for qualifying.

·      
Small
business loan scam sites

The federal Payroll Protection Program and the
Economic Injury Disaster Loan processes have been challenging for many business
owners to manage. Avoid web sites promising expedited action in exchange for
up-front fees or down payments. “This is pretty straightforward. If it is not your commercial
or retail bank that is working with you to access Small Business Administration
funds, walk away,” Trumble says. “Consult SBA.gov for
guidance and information, and then only work with an accredited FDIC-insured
bank on the application process.”

Trumble
says ACCC counselors are advising clients to also consult the Consumer
Finance Protection Bureau
web site for guidance and updated alerts on possible
COVID-19 scams. The elevated risk has emerged as many Americans struggle to
stay afloat financially as a result of the pandemic’s economic wrath.

A March survey by American Consumer
Credit Counseling found that nearly 80 percent of all American
consumers
have been
impacted financially by the COVID-19 crisis. The ACCC Financial Health Index
demonstrated that consumers would “require budget counseling, assistance from
creditors through forbearance and payment deferral, and flexibility from
mortgage banks and landlords on housing payments.”

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