As the COVID-19 outbreak continues, many government agencies are providing money and other support to help with pandemic-related hardships. Scammers, always ready to take advantage of people in crisis, have been stepping in with a new con. The Better Business Bureau offers the following information on con “consultants” claiming to help you get free government aid.
How the scam works
A website search, social media ad or even an unwitting friend or family member directs you to a website of a new service claiming to help you get free money from government aid programs. These “consultants” say they can get you money from unadvertised government programs or programs where your application was previously denied. For example, scammers may assert that they can get you a personal loan from the U.S. Small Business Association, a government agency specifically for businesses.
To get started, all you have to do is fill out some paperwork. This typically requires sharing sensitive, personal information, such as your full name, home address and government ID numbers. Next, the “consultant” will ask you for an upfront payment for the services. You also may be required to pay a portion of the government aid funds you receive directly to the company, which they will likely ask for in advance.
Most of the time, these “consultants” don’t really have any special information on government aid programs. Instead, they are simply hoping to access personal information and an initial payment. Once you’ve paid, the “consultant” will disappear and the company will become unreachable. Your money may be lost for good and your personal information could be compromised, putting you at risk for identity theft.
Tips to avoid the scam
To avoid getting conned:
• Research government aid programs through official channels. Visit websites that end in “.gov” or “.ca” for official information on government aid programs. Remember, government agencies don’t typically call, text or send social media direct messages without you opting into these channels.
• Never give your personal information to strangers. Even if their story is convincing, it’s never wise to share your personal information with an individual or organization you hardly know.
• Get to know a company before doing business with it. Before handing over money or your personal information, research a company and its claims. Ask yourself: Does this company have a good reputation? Is it BBB accredited and, if so, what is its business rating? Does this government aid program actually exist? If a company representative gets defensive or aggressive when you ask questions to verify the claims, don’t do business with that company.
• Beware of promises that sound too good to be true. Scammers are experts at pitching services and products that will miraculously solve all of your problems, so be skeptical. Double check any claims before you agree to pay for services or share your personal details.
For more information on common COVID-19 scams and how to avoid them, visit bbb.org/council/coronavirus.
If you’ve been approached by scammers who claimed to be financial aid consultants, report your experience on the BBB Scam Tracker at BBB.org/scamtracker.
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