Hard as it is to believe, there are people taking advantage of the coronavirus COVID-19 health crisis to commit consumer fraud trying to steal your money. Customers Bank wants to take a brief minute to alert you to some of the current scams. We have outlined some of the scams below. For more information, you can review the Federal Trade Commission’s warnings at: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2020/02/coronavirus-scammers-follow-headlines.

Small Business Loans & Grants

The Small Business Administration (SBA) and other government economic development agencies do not contact businesses directly suggesting or soliciting loans. Banks take and process SBA traditional and disaster loan applications. The SBA and other government agencies do not provide grants to small businesses. Loans may be forgiven, but there are no grant programs from the US Government to small business. If someone calls you saying they are from the government with disaster relief, or if they say they can get you approval, suspect fraud and check their identity. If they ask for a fee, suspect fraud. More at: https://www.sba.gov/document/report–sba-programs-scams-fraud-alerts

Coronavirus Charity Scams

Scammers are taking advantage of the fears by setting up websites to sell bogus products and using fake emails, texts and social media posts as a ruse to take your money.

Some scammers pose as a charity asking for a donation to help fight the spread of the virus. Others will ask for donations to help the sick, or those who lost their jobs during the health crisis.

Do not make contributions of cash, gift cards or stock to agencies or organizations with which you are not very familiar. www.guidestar.org is a good resource for checking out a charity’s authenticity and financials.

Beware look-alike and sound-alike names or misspellings like “ReddCross.”

Grandparent Coronavirus Scams

The FTC reports fraudsters are now targeting older adults, posing as panicked grandchildren asking for help with medical and emergency costs. The aim of the scam is to exploit grandparents over the phone or digital messaging channels and trick them into sending cash immediately.

If you receive a call or message asking for cash, gift cards or a wire, do not immediately send the money. Take time to directly contact the family member to confirm the story. Trust your instincts- if a request seems suspicious, it likely is.

For more information, view the FTC’s summary of Family Emergency Scams at https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0204-family-emergency-scams.

Phony Cures & Treatments

Scammers use fake websites advertising fraudulent (often dangerous) treatment products and cures. These sites are designed to steal your money with the purchase of a fake product. Some sites might infect victims’ computers with a vicious computer virus that steals your personal and confidential information.

If there is a cure, you’ll hear about it from the CDC. Don’t click on the bait. Don’t buy the product.

The following list of companies have received warning letters issued by the FTC and FDA for offering unproven treatments for the Coronavirus.

– Bioenergy Wellness Miami
– Face Vital LLC
– LightAir International AB
– MedQuick Labs LLC
– New Performance Nutrition
– ParaTHRIVE LLC
– Resurgence Medical Spa, LLC
– Rocky Mountain IV Medics
– Suki Distribution Pte. Ltd.
– Vita Activate

Money from the Government

President Trump and members of Congress have proposed various plans to stimulate the economy by sending checks to Americans. But no law or executive order has taken effect yet. If someone calls, emails, or texts you saying they are from the government and want to give you money, they are a scammer.

The Federal Trade Commission reminds us:

  1. The government will not ask you to pay anything up front to get this money. No fees. No charges. No nothing.
  2. The government will not call to ask for your Social Security number, bank account, or credit card number. Anyone who does is a scammer.
  3. These reports of checks aren’t yet a reality. Anyone who tells you they can get you the money now is a scammer.
FDIC Insurance Is Canceled Scam

Imposters pretending to be representatives of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) are scaring consumers with reports that FDIC Insurance has been canceled or that they must take action to protect their deposits.

The FDIC issued a statement on March 18, “reminding Americans that FDIC-insured banks remain the safest place to keep their money. Since 1933, no depositor has ever lost a penny of FDIC-insured funds. Today, the FDIC insures up to $250,000 per depositor per FDIC-insured bank. An FDIC-insured account is the safest place for consumers to keep their money.”

The FDIC does not contact depositors asking for money or sensitive personal information. The FDIC will never contact people asking for personal details, such as bank account information, credit and debit card numbers, Social Security numbers, or passwords.

Phishing Scams

Scammers are using email and text messages scams disguised as messages from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). The emails and posts may be promoting awareness and prevention tips, even providing supposed information about coronavirus cases in your neighborhood.

These messages have malicious links that download malware, which gives cybercriminals access to your personal and confidential information.

Unless you are a doctor or world class researcher, the CDC and WHO are not emailing you directly. Don’t open suspicious emails or click on links.

Investment
Scams

“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” Scammers are using the old “pump-and-dump” where con artists promote penny stocks for companies that claim to have coronavirus treatment products. The stock price soars with the new trades, and then the con artist dumps their shares at a profit, which leaves the stock price to drop and you to be out your investment.

Don’t make a rash investment decision. Discuss your investments with a qualified and registered investment advisor or broker.

Third-Party
Seller Scams

Scammers jump on legitimate online retail websites like Amazon and Walmart to sell expired, damaged, counterfeit, or unsafe products with no intention of taking returns or giving refunds.

Let the buyer beware! Make a separate search for reviews or more information on the seller and product. Again, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Third-Party
Buyer Scams

Vendors need to beware as well! With stores closed, online retail is higher than ever. Scammers will purchase your products, often buying and paying with an app, only to cancel the payment after the product has shipped, but before the payment has cleared.

Do your best to know your customers. Work with your bank and app vendor to have the latest fraud protection systems in place.

Recruiting Money “Mules”

In very elaborate scams, con artists set up fake organizations seeking to “hire” individuals for easy work and good money. This comes at a time when many people, like those in the hospitality industry, are temporarily out of work and in need of a paycheck.

Every applicant is “hired” and work begins immediately with simple tasks. In a short time, however, the new recruits are asked to open Bitcoin wallets or new bank accounts. The “employee” receives a payment by check (that is counterfeit) with instructions to redeposit the money in another account, keeping a little for themselves as payment. The funds are often stolen from hacked accounts. The new hire has just committed money laundering and could go to jail.

Yet one more time: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Check out a potential online employer as well as you can and if something doesn’t seem right, report it before it’s too late.

IRS Coronavirus Relief Scams

Most people who qualify for an IRS Coronavirus Relief check will automatically receive payment by direct deposit from the IRS within weeks. As details continue to emerge about how and when paper payments will arrive, some scammers may start using official-looking fake checks to steal money and personal information. The paper checks from the IRS are supposed to begin arriving in May at the earliest, so if you receive a relief check before then, or get a check when you’re expecting direct deposit, it is most likely a scam.

For additional trusted information and updates about IRS payments – always start at  irs.gov/coronavirus. To learn more about how to avoid scams, subscribe to the FTC’s consumer alerts, and remember, always report scams to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.

Avoid Scams During Quarantine

As older adults are more susceptible to Coronavirus, many are trying to find help with everyday errands. The FTC reports scammers are taking advantage of this behavior to offer to pick up supplies, groceries or other needs, often never returning with the goods or your money. It is much safer to rely on a trusted friend, neighbor or family member, or to order directly from the store.

Individuals who need additional help can take advantage of the U.S. Administration on Aging’s Eldercare Locator, or call 1-800-677-1116.

If you are helping a loved one manage their money? Consider these tips to keep them and yourself at ease.

Check-in regularly. Call them or video chat to stay connected and let them know you are thinking about them.

Ask Questions. This will help you determine if your loved one has any concerns, or if they noticed any unusual activity in one of their accounts.

Know your responsibilities. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau provides many helpful guides that explain your fiduciary duties, how to identify financial exploitations, as well as how to avoid scams. For more information from the CFPB, click here.

Medicare Scams

Representatives from Medicare will not call and ask you to verify your personal information, such as bank account, Social Security or Medicare numbers. This is a trick scammers use to try and steal your identity. If you receive a call from anyone asking for your personal information, hang up the phone and call the company directly. This will ensure that you are speaking with a company representative. Remember to talk to your friends about the call as this could help them avoid similar scams.

Make sure to report all scams to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.

Avoiding Social Security Administration Scams

Some scammers are pretending to be representatives from the Social Security Administration and can trick your caller ID to display the Social Security Administration’s name. These scammers play on individuals fears and anxiety by saying police or marshals are on the way to arrest you. The best advice to avoid scams like this, is to never provide personal information to anyone who calls you out of the blue. Talk to your friends and family about the call so they are aware of the scam and do not end up as victims.

To learn more about this scam, the FTC put together a short two and half minute video, available here.

How to spot a counterfeit stimulus check

The Secret Service in partnership with the U.S. Department of the Treasury has released a sample of the paper stimulus checks that are being issued to millions of Americans beginning this month in an effort to deter counterfeiters. To learn more about the security features on U.S. Treasury checks, click here.

Medical Equipment Purchasing Scams

The FBI has issued a scam warning to state agencies, healthcare providers and other companies purchasing medical equipment. Scammers are using Business Email Compromises (BEC) to trick employees into making changes to invoices and other documents in an effort to transfer funds to the scammer’s account. The FBI also stated scammers are posing as equipment sellers and asking for upfront fees for the procurement of equipment.

The FBI has advised that state agencies and healthcare providers should verify email claims by equipment sellers. If a seller asks for upfront fees, payments should be routed through a domestic escrow account with funds released to the seller once the product is delivered.

To learn more about equipment purchasing scams, click here.

First FTC Coronavirus Lawsuit Filed

The first FTC Coronavirus lawsuit has been filed in Rhode Island. The lawsuit alleges a company named SBA Loan Program has been soliciting applications from small business; however, the organization has no affiliation with the U.S. Small Business Association or the loan programs offered by the SBA. The lawsuit also alleges the company has tried to mislead small businesses through the URL SBALoanProgram.com.

The FTC reminds small businesses that if someone calls out of the blue claiming to be the SBA, suspect fraud. Business owners seeking relief should visit the SBA’s Coronavirus Relief Options page for more information.

U.S. Citizens Abroad

Expatriates may have to provide additional personal information to the IRS to receive economic impact payments. This means scammers will be targeting them to get their claws on personal data and the payments. To avoid scammers, only use irs.gov/coronavirus to submit personal information to the IRS. The IRS also offers a helpful guide on how to use the tools available to receive your economic impact payment.

Do Not Open Links in Unsolicited Text Messages

The FTC has issued a scam alert reminding consumers the U.S. Government will not reach out by text message regarding the economic impact payments or other recovery assistance. If you receive an unsolicited text message with a link in it, that message is most likely a scam.

Scammers are becoming more sophisticated. This means the scammer may include official-looking logos and messages may no longer include typos. Do not open links in unsolicited texts and delete the message immediately.

Scammers are offering facemasks and other supplies

Scammers rely on the good intentions of individuals and businesses. Beginning in March, scammers have taken advantage of businesses, healthcare workers and individuals looking to purchase facemasks and paper products by taking money for purchases and then not fulfilling orders.

The FTC recommends always checking out a company online before making purchases and look for reviews, complaints or scams associated with the business. Carefully review the total purchase price including taxes, shipping and handling. When placing online orders, it is safest to use a credit card, as that will provide protections under federal law so you don’t have to pay for merchandise that was never delivered.

Did an ID thief steal your stimulus payment?

For consumers who are concerned their economic impact payment has landed in the hands of an identity thief, you can now report your concern to the FTC and the IRS at the same time. Visit IdentityTheft.gov to report a suspected identity theft and get a personal recovery plan. To link will ask for information to complete an IRS Identity Theft Affidavit (IRS Form 14039) and electronically submit it directly to the IRS for you.

Service members Face Increased Risk for Identity Theft

According to the FTC, service members are approximately 76% more likely than other consumers to report the misuse of an existing account, including credit cards and bank accounts. Service members are also three times more likely to report that money has been taken directly out of their bank accounts through debit cards or other electronic methods.

To reduce the risk of identity theft, the FTC suggests service members check bank accounts regularly and temporarily lock or freeze debit and credit cards. The FTC also recommends never sharing authentication information, signing up for a free credit monitoring service, as well as placing an active duty alert on your credit report when you are deploying.

Importance of due diligence and monitoring

Large scale scammers often don’t act alone to deceive consumers. In the case of First Data Merchant Systems, one of the largest payment processing companies, the FTC has alleged the company and its former vice president, Chi “Vincent” Ko, acted in a manner that helped scammers rake in large amounts of money at the expense of consumers. Now the payment processor and executive will pay $40.2 million to settle the FTC’s charges of assisting fraudulent schemes and credit card laundering by approving hundreds of false merchant applications.
The FTC’s action should be viewed as a warning to other businesses that are not conducting proper due diligence or ignoring the signs of potential fraud. Due diligence and monitoring should not be taken lightly.

FTC Issues Warning Letters to Fraudulent Marketers

The FTC has issued warning letters to 35 additional companies nationwide for marketing products with unsubstantiated claims that their products or therapies can treat or prevent COVID-19. The commission has issued similar letters to over 160 companies that require the business to notify the FTC within 48 hours of the specific actions the company took to address the issue. For more visit https://www.ftc.gov/coronavirus/enforcement/warning-letters

FTC Issues Warning About Deceptive Funding Practices

Small business is a critical component of the economy, and that can make them the target of deceptive funders and scammers. The FTC announced a new lawsuit against a financing company that used deceptive practices to provide less money and charge high fees to small businesses. The FTC recommends carefully reading contracts before signing them and getting written answers for all questions. It is also essential to understand the consequences of missing or late payments. Small business owners should also review funding options from the Small Business Administration. To learn more about small business scams, visit the FTC’s Small Business website.

Utility Company Calling?

As cases of COVID-19 continue to increase, scammers are finding new methods to take advantage of consumers’ heightened anxiety. The Federal Trade Commission reported the latest ploy by scammers is to pose as representatives from utility companies to gain access to consumers’ personal information and money. Reminder, never give out personal or banking information to anyone who calls you. Hang up the phone and contact your utility provider at the number provided on a recent statement. If the caller requests payment by gift card or wiring money, you know it is a scam. Tell friends and family if you receive a suspicious call, as this can help them avoid similar scams.

Tech Support Virus Scams

The FTC has issued a warning that scammers are pretending to be tech support representatives from reputable companies including Apple and Microsoft. They may contact you by phone to say they detected a virus on your computer, or you may get a pop up message on your computer saying a virus was detected. These are scams intended to scare you into action before you have time to think. Remember, never give out personal, banking or credit card information to anyone who contacts you. To learn more, visit https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2020/09/how-can-you-spot-tech-support-scam?utm_source=govdelivery.

Package Delivery Scams

The Federal Trade Commission has issued a warning that scammers are targeting consumers with messages about packages waiting for delivery. The messages from the scammers include links to try and trick individuals into providing their personal information. The cardinal rule remains never click links in any message you were not expecting. To protect yourself, contact the company directly using its official phone number or website, and remember to always report scams to the FTC.

To learn more, click here.