At this point we can safely say there’s no limit to the situations these people will exploit to make a buck.
With the announcement and passage of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Safety Act (CARES) Act, it was only a matter of time before financial predators launched their newest attack on the public: tricking Americans waiting for their rebate checks out of their personal information.
While the CARES Act is a comprehensive stimulus package, the provision of most concern to the American public is that which issues every citizen a direct relief payment. In an effort to bring some measure of security to those affected by lay-offs, furloughs, and closures, the CARES Act directs the Treasury to issue all Americans with a Social Security number a $1,200 payment (the actual amount will vary depending on income and dependents).
In the chaos of this bill’s rapid-speed passage, a dizzying news cycle, and the general confusion of our new normal, a lot of people have no idea when or how these payments will be made. Those who have filed 2018 or 2019 tax returns understand their checks will be automatically issued by the IRS based on their last return.
But what about those who DON’T file tax returns? This group is largely—if not mostly—composed of seniors and retirees. These are people who don’t make enough income in a year to need to file tax returns.
By now we know this group will need to file some kind of abbreviated return for which they will receive a Form 1099 from the IRS. The Social Security Administration and IRS have been directed by the CARES Act to engage in a public outreach campaign to get this information and filing instructions to the general public.
Unfortunately, it takes time for federal agencies to really get public outreach programs going. And in that time scammers have proven yet again they are far faster than the federal government at reaching everyday citizens.
Pivoting from their usual Social Security racket, scammers are now using their tried-and-true SSA impersonation strategies on those waiting for their stimulus checks.
In just a matter of days scammers have already come up with half a dozen ways to use imminent stimulus payments to talk victims out of their identities:
- Mailing fake stimulus checks (“Please go to X website or call Y number to confirm your identity and that you’ve received your payment.”)
- Scam calls, social media messages, and emails asking for verification of personal details (“Please verify your identity so we can send you your check.”)
- Scam calls, social media messages, and emails asking for credit card information (“You will need to pay a small processing fee so we can send you your payment.”)
- Scam calls, social media messages, and emails asking for your Social Security number (“We will need your SSN so we can deposit your payment.”)
While the method of contact and the reasoning behind the contact will vary, the end goal will be the same in all cases: someone is trying to get your name, address, birth date, credit card information, or Social Security number in order to steal your identity.
This is the exact same scam as the Social Security Administration scam. The person who contacts you will most likely try to fraudulently impersonate an employee or representative of the SSA or IRS. In the case of calls, they may try to spoof a legitimate SSA office number. In the case of direct messages, emails, or mailers, they may use the actual logos and branding materials of the SSA or IRS to make you think the communication is legitimate.
However these scammers attempt to ensnare you in the coming weeks, we recommend that you follow our guidelines in sniffing out any Social Security benefit scammer to protect yourself:
- Above all, know that these relief payments DO NOT REQUIRE ANY KIND OF PAYMENT ON YOUR PART. This is a service being done by the Treasury to Americans in need. Think about it: what kind of sense does it make to mail financial relief payments to people and ask for payment in order to receive them? It doesn’t. Do not fall for this nonsense.
- The SSA and the IRS already knows who you are. They have your SSN. They have your name. They have your address. It’s the Social Security Administration for crying out loud—why would the SSA need you to verify your SSN?
- Even if these agencies would need you to verify certain details, they have said time and time again that they will NOT contact you by phone, email, or direct message to ask for them. As it pertains to the SSA, it will only call you if you have previously scheduled a phone appointment with them. Federal agencies simply DO NOT do business this way—especially when it comes to passing extremely sensitive information back and forth.
- Scammers rely on the timidity, openness, and trusting nature of their victims to pull these schemes off. No matter how intimidating, convincing, or aggressive these people may get, you never have to fork your information over blind. You have the right to verify who you are talking to before you give anyone your information. If there is any question in your mind whatsoever, hang up or ignore the mailer or digital contact and call the SSA or the IRS to confirm the validity of the contact. Don’t give anyone your bank or Social Security information without contacting these agencies directly.
- Trust no websites any emails or direct messages may send you to. Trust no phone number a “Social Security representative” may call you from. These are widely and easily faked.
If you receive contact like this over the coming days, we strongly encourage you to help others by doing what you can to put a stop to these vultures.
The FTC has also set up a direct link to their scam complaint system for further reporting on COVID-19-related scams (this could also be used to report scams having to do with “miracle” cures and Coronavirus testing or medical equipment—sadly, these are also happening).
Please share these reporting resources with your friends and family. All financial predation is vile, but under our current circumstances, these scams are particularly disgusting. These scammers are taking advantage of those who, by no fault of their own, have fallen on hard times. They are spitting in the faces of hundreds of thousands of people who are sick or mourning the loss of loved ones, and millions more who are terrified they’ll end up in the same situation.
These scammers belong in jail. Report them.