Congress moved quickly to help the American public with a $2 trillion stimulus bill.
Unfortunately, fraud experts believe scammers will move just as quickly to try to take your share away. The key is to arm yourself with information.
“No doubt, there will be fake messages that will make countless claims,” said Don White, head of Corporate Security at Regions Bank. “Scammers may text, email or call you, asking for your banking information or claiming they can process your stimulus payment for you. Don’t take the bait. Do not, under any circumstance, give away your personal information via text, email or phone to someone you do not know who is soliciting you.”
The bipartisan legislation to boost the economy amid the COVID-19 pandemic includes economic relief for American taxpayers in the form of stimulus checks. Each eligible adult will receive up to $1,200, based on gross income.
According to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the checks could go out in the next two weeks, although there are still questions as to how the money will be distributed. For example, someone who received a refund on 2019 taxes via the Automated Clearing House (ACH) could receive a direct deposit.
Meanwhile, scammers are ready to take advantage by reaching out and saying your account information is needed, or that you can have their relief check for a small fee.
To avoid fraud, consider these suggestions:
1. Hang up. Don’t reply. The IRS, Treasury Department or other government agencies will not call, email or text message people to collect account information, Social Security numbers or credit card information. Anyone who does is likely a scammer, White said.
2. Do not pay anyone offering to get your stimulus funds early or sell you additional stimulus checks. This is a promise that they will not be able to fulfill.
3. Enroll in your bank’s or credit card company’s online and mobile applications to monitor your account activity frequently, looking for suspicious activity.
4. Avoid clicking on unknown links, which may expose you to viruses or malware.
5. While online, verify the legitimacy of websites you visit.
– Turn on browser tools, which can help identify fraudulent websites.
– Ensure the websites are secure and encrypted with HTTPS.
– Look for links that are broken or take you away from the original website.
– Shop through websites you know and trust.
6. As always, slow down, verify, and verify again the legitimacy of financial transactions before approving. Look for changes to account numbers, phone numbers, email addresses or other identifying information.
“We are seeing a spike in fraud activity during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Jon Kucharski, Fraud Strategy Manager at Regions. “No matter what this payment winds up being, only scammers will ask you to pay to get it. Just keep in mind, these unusual times require patience and a little extra vigilance to keep your finances safe.”
Steps to take if you become a victim of a stimulus check fraud:
- Contact your bank to lock down the account to mitigate additional harm. The bank’s fraud team may be able to use the information to detect patterns and help save other customers.
- If the scam is internet based, report it through the FBI’s IC3 page at ic3.gov.
- If the scam is mail based, contact the U.S. Postal Inspector. And if the check is stolen, contact the U.S. Secret Service.