Q: I am unemployed and still have not received my stimulus check. What advice may BBB provide to me?
A: Many people are still waiting for their stimulus check and in some states, still navigating the unemployment system as they continue to look for work. To compound the situation, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is warning of the latest phishing scheme where con artists are pretending to be government officials offering grant money from a fund that doesn’t even exist.
Even in the midst of a pandemic, fraudsters aren’t slowing down and, because of COVID-19, many household budgets are stretched thin and cash flow is low. Scammers see this as an opportunity to prey on consumer’s emotions, making it easier to trick them into sharing personal or financial information.
How the Scam Works
Recently, people are stepping forward reporting to BBB’s ScamTracker, www.bbb.org/scamtracker ,they’ve received an email, message through Instagram, or a text message from a friend stating they’ll get money from a COVID-19 “Global Empowerment Fund” or other similarly named fund. All the recipient is required to do is respond to the message with banking account information and the funds will be transferred to it. The messaging sounds legitimate because it claims to come from the Federal Trade Commission or another government agent. However, the FTC warns there is no money and there is no fund of such kind. In fact, the FTC will not contact people by phone, email, text message, or social media to ask for financial information, including Social Security numbers from anyone. The FTC reports that these are common phishing tactics to get personal information. Do not respond to these phishing messages and encourage friends or relatives to do the same. Instead, report it to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.
Tips to spot and avoid a phishing scam
Be aware of phone fraud. Scammers claim to be calling in an official capacity as a government agent and may either sound friendly and courteous; or aggressive and threatening. The caller ID may match the agency they’re claiming to represent, but this can be easily spoofed. Never feel pressured to act. When in doubt, hang up the phone and call the official source to verify unexpected or unusual claims. You can also reduce the number of unsolicited calls you receive by registering your phone number with the National Do-Not-Call registry at 1-888-382-1222 or donotcall.gov.
Generally, government agencies will send a letter. If the government needs to reach you, they will send you official documentation in the mail.
Unknown? Leave it alone. Never confirm or give out personal information to unsolicited phone calls, text messages, social media messages, or phone calls. Government agencies DO NOT make unsolicited calls.
Personal information is just that – personal! Do not give out banking and credit card information, birth date, Social Security or Insurance number, or any other personal, sensitive information to someone that says they are with a government agency. Personal information is like money – protect it from scammers looking to steal your identity or your benefits.
Scammers prefer unusual and untraceable methods of payment. The government will never ask for wire transfers or to send them a gift card or pre-paid debit card. This type payment is a RED FLAG in any scam solicitation.
For more information
The Internal Revenue Service is responsible for distributing economic stimulus payments, www.ftc.org , and not any third party vendor.
Take steps to protect personal information after an encounter with a scammer by going to IdentityTheft.gov.
Fight back by reporting government imposter scams to BBB.org/ScamTracker.
Jim Winsett is president of the Better Business Bureau in Chattanooga
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