Help Your Readers Spot These Sneaky COVID-19 Scams

As of May 7, 2020, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received nearly 39,000 complaints from consumers who reported losing a median of $503, for a cumulative loss of $29 million.  (The agency provides daily updates.)

But these devious thefts aren’t over yet. U.S. households won’t receive all of the economic stimulus money voted by Congress until September, but scammers don’ have to wreak havoc with your reader’s finances, health, and peace of mind. Report this breaking personal finance story ASAP by looking into the three ways scammers are trying to worm their ways into your readers’ pocketbooks:

Scam #1: “Hello?” That’s not the IRS calling

Use your news organization’s online channels to invite readers who want to participate in a story on COVID-19 phone scams. Put out a call for readers who have been scammed, as well as those who haven’t, and have them engage in a Q-&-A on the warning signs. Also include a certified counselor, who can offer vulnerable readers valuable tips on how to stand up to a scam call.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) never calls taxpayers or asks for their bank account numbers. But that’s what scammers are doing, claiming they need a bank account number to deposit a taxpayer’s economic impact payment. As of April 28th, the agency reported that nearly 90 million (89.5 Americans) had received $160 million, either through direct deposit or a check. That represents just about 55 percent of the money sent out to date, so this threat isn’t over yet.

Scam #2: Knock, knock: Avoid this salesperson

“Door-to-door sales” gets a new twist during a crisis: scammers claiming to represent the IRS or even the National Guard, which has been deployed to some areas of the United States during the coronavirus pandemic. For a fee—or in exchange for valuable personal information—the scammer promises to expedite aid. Online, scammers are busy selling products that never arrive, or marketing phony medical products and therapies. To date, the FTC has sent out letters to 145 such companies. Is any company in your reporting area?

Scam #3: Make coronavirus donations count

Some of your readers are in a position to donate part—or all—of their economic impact payment checks. Help them direct their dollars to reputable charities by developing a story on the failproof ways to do that. The FTC offers a comprehensive checklist here. Some highlights:

• Check a charity’s name through a simple online search using the words “scam” or “fraud”; fake charities will typically use names similar to those of well-known organizations.

• Review ratings on the FTC’s link, or by searching Guidestar or Charity Navigator, which has developed this list of approved COVID-19 charities.

• Don’t rush, says the FTC. Only scammers rush victims and ask them to make donations in cash, or with gift cards and wire transfers.

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