A watchdog group is warning people about a coronavirus relief scam making the rounds on social media.
The Better Business Bureau said last week it’s received multiple reports of phony messages that appear to be from a friend or family member promoting bogus coronavirus relief grants. The messages are coming from “con artists” who steal information from Facebook or Instagram accounts and target their networks, according to the organization.
The “friend” may also claim to have applied for the grant and received thousands of dollars, the BBB says.
But the account has either been hacked by scammers or is a lookalike profile created from stolen photos and information.
“Either way, these con artists are banking that you will trust a message that appears to come from someone you know,” the BBB warns.
The scammer will then say that to get the grant, money for delivery or processing must be paid upfront, according to the group. But the “grant will never materialize.”
Similar phony text messages and phone calls have also been reported to the BBB.
The scam comes at a time when people are especially vulnerable as “it can be hard to turn down free money,” the group says.
The unemployment rate has been higher than the United States has seen in recent decades — hitting 14.7 percent in April before dipping to 10.2 percent in July, the most recent month available, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Additionally, more than 1 million Americans filed new unemployment claims just last week, according to data from the Department of Labor.
Those tough economic conditions made it easier for at least one victim of the scam to be duped.
“This scam was very convincing,” a person targeted by the scam told the BBB. “(It looked like it came from) someone I know and trust. Because of COVID-19, I’m laid off, so I would try it. (The scammer) said my name was on a list to receive this grant money. I lost $1,000 of my unemployment.”
The Better Business Bureau warns you should never pay for a “free” grant from the government.
“If you have to pay money to claim a ‘free’ grant, it isn’t really free,” it says. “A real government agency won’t ask you to pay a processing fee for a grant you have already been awarded.”
It’s also important to confirm the existence of the government agency or organization the person claims the grant is from and to “find contact info on your own and call them to be sure the person you’ve heard from is legitimate,” the BBB says.
The list of official grant-making agencies in the U.S. can be found here.
Additionally, the BBB urges people to “be wary of your friends’ taste online.”
“Your friend or family member may have impeccable judgment in real-life,” the group says. “But online, email messages, social posts and direct messages could be from a hacked or impersonated account.”
Scam accounts and messages should also be reported to Facebook or Instagram, the BBB says.
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