The St. Louis Consumer Fraud Task Force (CFTF) warns area consumers to be wary of scams related to stimulus payments during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The government’s issuance of stimulus packages during COVID-19 has opened the door to scammers who are trying to take advantage of unsuspecting people.
Scammers are attempting to get money and personal identifying information from consumers, using the stimulus packages and the pandemic as a hook.
Task Force members have received hundreds of consumer reports dealing with stimulus scams during the pandemic. A number of imposter scams have surfaced this year related to COVID-19. Many of the fraudsters use COVID-19 as part of their ruse.
A woman from the southwest Missouri town of Flemington reported to Better Business Bureau (BBB) ScamTracker last month that she was offered a “Corona Grant” through a text message. The text said the money didn’t have to be repaid as it was being given to the recipient by the government.
“They said they needed us to put in our full names and check with their database,” the woman said. “I gave my and my husband’s full names, and then they sent back via text a link for me to click on for me to get (the money). They were offering whatever money I needed in order to get the job done. I didn’t tell them how much I needed, but said I was interested in checking into this. I thought about it and realized that it wasn’t a real deal.”
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has received nearly 60,000 COVID-related scam reports with more than $70 million in losses this year. In addition, consumers have reported nearly 18,000 cases of identity theft nationwide in 2020.
Last month, the FTC filed suit in the Eastern District of Louisiana against a marketing firm which allegedly used deceptive advertising with COVID-19 stimulus messaging. The FTC says Traffic Jam Events, LLC, of Kenner, Louisiana, sent mailers labeled as “important COVID-19 stimulus documents” and directed recipients to a “relief headquarters” to “claim stimulus incentives.” The mailers included checks from a “Stimulus Relief Program” account. The “relief headquarters” wound up being a used car lot in Florida that was hosting a sale.
The Task Force says consumers should be aware of several things to protect themselves against stimulus package-related scams:
- Keep track of your payment. Millions of Americans have received their Economic Impact Payments, which have been distributed by direct deposit, check and debit card. Any debit cards will be sent in an envelope with the words “Money Network Cardholder Services” on it. To check on the status of your stimulus payment, check the IRS website. The IRS has produced a video to help consumers with questions about their Economic Impact Payment.
- Ignore any contact attempts. No agency is going to text, email or ask you to click on a link to activate your stimulus card or to receive your money. Unless you initiate the call seeking help, no one will call you about your Economic Impact Payment. If someone texts, emails or calls you about your payment, don’t give them any personal or financial information.
- Monitor your credit. The Fair Credit Reporting Act allows consumers a free copy of their credit report every 12 months. The three major credit reporting companies have agreed to offer free weekly reports through 2021. Reviewing credit reports can help consumers catch signs of identity theft.
- Report the bad actors. You can report stimulus-related scams to BBB ScamTracker, the FTC, U.S. Postal Inspection Service and your state’s attorney general.
The Task Force, formed in October 2002, is a coalition of local, state and federal government agencies and nonprofit business and consumer groups in Missouri and Illinois that work together to protect consumer and donor rights and guard against fraud.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Task Force has met on a monthly basis to share information in an attempt to keep consumers safe.
The group has tackled predatory payday loan offers, tax scams, timeshare fraud, credit repair and foreclosure scams, bogus sweepstakes, internet sweetheart scams, phony grant scams, home remodeling, elder fraud, payment scams and a variety of other issues.
To obtain information, or to report a scam, contact members of the Task Force:
- Better Business Bureau Serving Eastern and Southwest Missouri and Southern Illinois – (888) 996-3887; BBB.org
- Federal Trade Commission – (877) FTC-HELP (382-4357); ftc.gov
- Federal Bureau of Investigations – (314) 589-2500
- Illinois Attorney General – (800) 243-0618; illinoisattorneygeneral.gov
- Illinois Secretary of State – Securities Department – 800-628-7937
- Missouri Attorney General – (800) 392-8222; ago.mo.gov
- St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department – (314) 231-1212; www.slmpd.org
- U.S. Attorney, Eastern District of Missouri – (314) 539-2200; www.usdoj.gov/usao/moe
- U.S. Postal Inspection Service – (877) 876-2455; postalinspectors.uspis.gov
- U.S. Secret Service – (314) 539-2238; www.secretservice.gov
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