This page is a space to find tips and warnings to avoid crimes related to COVID-19, specifically cybercrime. We will be adding pieces of advice multiple times throughout the week, so check back often for updates.
IRS Warns Taxpayers about COVID-19 Scams as Next Round of Economic Impact Payments are Delivered
Although criminals are constantly changing their tactics, taxpayers can help protect themselves by acting as the first line of defense. The best way to avoid falling victim to a scam is to know how the IRS communicates with taxpayers. The IRS does not send unsolicited texts or emails. The IRS does not call people with threats of jail or lawsuits, nor does it demand tax payments on gift cards. Some other scam tactics include:
- Text messages asking taxpayers to disclose bank account information under the guise of receiving their Economic Impact Payments.
- Phishing schemes using email, letters, and social media messages with keywords such as "Coronavirus," "COVID-19," and "stimulus" in varying ways. These communications are blasted to large numbers of people and aim to access personally identifiable information and financial account information (including account numbers and passwords).
- The organized and unofficial sale of fake at-home COVID-19 test kits (as well as offers to sell fake cures, vaccines, pills, and professional medical advice regarding unproven COVID-19 treatments).
- Fake donation requests for individuals, groups and areas heavily affected by the disease
COVID-19 scams should be reported to the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) Hotline at 1-866-720-5721 or submitted through the NCDF Web Complaint Form. The NCDF is a national coordinating agency within the Department of Justice's Criminal Division.
Taxpayers who receive unsolicited emails or social media attempts to gather information that appear to be from either the IRS or an organization closely linked to the IRS, should forward the message to firstname.lastname@example.org. Taxpayers are encouraged not to engage potential scammers online or on the phone.
New Tax-Themed Phishing Scam Emerges
This tax season, a major phishing campaign is targeting U.S. taxpayers in an effort to deliver malware on the computers of unsuspecting victims. The phishing messages contain malicious documents that purport to contain tax-related information but ultimately deliver remote access Trojans allowing hackers to take control of the devices. The attacker evades antivirus tools by tricking victims into opening the tax-themed Word document that initiates the download of an OpenVPN client.
FBI Sees Spike in Fraudulent Unemployment Insurance Claims Filed Using Stolen Identities
The FBI has seen a spike in fraudulent unemployment insurance claims complaints related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic involving the use of stolen personally identifiable information (PII).
U.S. citizens from several states have been victimized by criminal actors impersonating the victims and using the victims’ stolen identities to submit fraudulent unemployment insurance claims online. The criminals obtain the stolen identity using a variety of techniques.
FBI Warns of Money Mule Schemes Exploiting the COVID-19 Pandemic
Fraudsters are taking advantage of the uncertainty and fear surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic to steal your money, access your personal and financial information, and use you as a money mule.
When criminals obtain money illegally, they have to find a way to move and hide the illicit funds. They scam other people, known as money mules, into moving this illicit money for them either through funds transfers, physical movement of cash, or through various other methods. Money mules are often targeted through online job schemes or dating websites and apps.
Americans Lost $77 Million to Covid-19 Fraud — and That’s Just the ‘Tip of the Iceberg’
As reported by Greg Iacurci 07/07/20 on CNBC.com, Americans have lost more than $77 million in fraud related to Covid-19, according to the Federal Trade Commission. However, that tally is likely a severe undercount amid an “unprecedented” scope of scams connected to the coronavirus, according to John Breyault, vice president of public policy, telecommunications, and fraud at the National Consumers League, a consumer advocacy group.
Should You Sign a COVID-19 Waiver Requested by a Business?
Even as coronavirus cases climb across the nation, many businesses are trying to reopen, and some are doing so with a new twist—asking customers to sign documents waiving their right to sue in the event that they contract COVID-19 on the premises. Should you sign such a waiver? Can your employer force you to sign one in order to return to work? And what rights are you giving up if you do?
Promise to Get Stimulus Checks from a Car Dealership? It’s Just a Scam.
During these difficult economic times, scammers will do almost anything to try to get your money. Including, it turns out, making bogus claims about economic stimulus checks to lure customers to auto sales events. In one complaint, the Federal Trade Commission says a direct mail marketing firm for car dealers is falsely claiming in mailers that their “Economic Automotive Stimulus Relief Program” is affiliated with and approved by the government.
Report Fraud to the FTC, Plus Important Recovery Steps
If you are a victim of a fraud attack, these steps include placing a free, one-year fraud alert on your credit, getting your free credit reports, and closing any fraudulent accounts opened in your name. IdentityTheft.gov also will help you add a free extended fraud alert or credit freeze to your credit report. These make it more difficult for an identity thief to open new accounts in your name.
COVID-19 Scams Targeting College Students
Maybe you or your friends have gotten an email claiming to be from the “Financial Department” of your university. The email tells you to click on a link to get a message about your COVID-19 economic stimulus check — and it needs to be opened through a portal link requiring your university login. Don’t do it. It’s a phishing scam. If you click to “log in,” you could be giving your user name, password, or other personal information to scammers, while possibly downloading malware onto your device.
Is a Scammer Receiving Unemployment Benefits in Your Name?
In a large-scale scam erupting in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, imposters are filing claims for unemployment benefits, using the names and personal information of people who have not filed claims. People learn about the fraud when they get a notice from their state unemployment benefits office or their employer about their supposed application for benefits.
Dealing with a Deceased Relative’s Debt
Especially during this time of crisis, dealing with the death of a loved one is hard. Dealing with a debt collector calling about their debts can make it even harder. If you’re in this situation and a debt collector calls, it’s important to know who is responsible for those debts, and what a debt collector can — and cannot — do to collect payment.
COVID-19 ruined my travel plans. Now what?
If COVID-19 canceled your travel plans, you are likely disappointed and wondering about refunds, credits, or vouchers for plane tickets, cruise bookings, tours, and more. Even if your scheduled travel is months away, you might be weighing your options. And many travel service providers seem to be working to address concerns about upcoming trips.
Planning a Funeral? Know Your Rights
If someone asked you to help plan a funeral, would you know where to start? The FTC’s information about funeral goods and services, types of funerals, and your rights can help. The FTC enforces the Funeral Rule, which makes it possible for you to compare prices and choose only the things you want or need.
If you can’t leave home or travel to a funeral provider right now, you can still get information about what it offers — and how much those goods and services cost.
Hurricane season 2020 and COVID-19
June 1st was the official start of hurricane season, and now is a great time to make a plan to deal with weather emergencies. Extreme weather events, like hurricanes and other natural disasters, can occur with little warning, and the effects come in many forms. Hurricanes may include heavy rainfall, high winds, storm surge, inland flooding, tornadoes, and rip currents. Are you ready to leave your home at a moment’s notice? Even if you’re a seasoned storm pro, have you thought through the differences in how you prepare during a pandemic?
Fraudulent Funders Causing Troubles for Small Businesses
As you explore financing options, be mindful: Some financing companies provide misleading terms, do not follow regulatory guidelines, and use questionable debt collection practices, leaving businesses in worse financial shape than before taking out a loan.
Small business is an important engine in the US economy. Unfortunately, small companies and organizations can be big business for deceptive funders and outright scammers.
So, before you get financing:
- Read the contract. If there’s anything you don’t understand, ask. Then get the answer in writing.
- Find out what the consequences will be if you can’t make payments on time.
- Check out funding options for your business at the Small Business Administration’s website.
- Learn to avoid small business scams at FTC’s Small Business website.
- Tell the FTC about any dishonest practices you experience.
As businesses reopen amid coronavirus, what are workers' rights?
While no one wants to be furloughed or unemployed indefinitely, recent surveys show that Americans have mixed feelings about returning to work right now. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued guidelines to help businesses as they reopen. The American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA), a workplace safety nonprofit, has provided some guidelines for retail, restaurants, salons, gyms and other service providers and their employees at its Back to Work Safely site. And USA TODAY's reporters and columnists have answers to some common questions people have as businesses reopen.
Remote Learning and Children’s Privacy
“Social distancing,” “shelter-in-place,” “virtual happy hour” – these are some of the new expressions on everyone’s lips the past few months. For many kids, parents, and teachers, add “remote learning” or “distance learning” to the list. Because of Coronavirus-related school closures, millions of students are now learning from home. For parents who are concerned about the privacy and security of their children’s personal data while they’re learning online, here are some things to know from the Federal Trade Commission.
Don't Be Fooled by Covid-19 Contact-Tracing Scams
The COVID-19 Pandemic has created prime conditions for scams. From phishing attacks to unemployment fraud, attackers have put new, more exploitative twists on their classic hustles. And now the Federal Trade Commission is warning that those fraudsters have designed scams around state contact-tracing initiatives.
Looking for work after Coronavirus layoffs?
Have you been laid off due to the Coronavirus? Or maybe your small business shut down? The Federal Trade Commission has kicked off a series of blogs with tips about handling the financial impact of the Coronavirus. These days, many people start by looking for ways to make money working from home. If you’re eyeing a work-at-home gig, here are some things to keep in mind.
Credit Reports are Now Free, Every Week
If you’re feeling anxious about your financial health during these uncertain times, you’re not alone. That’s why, according to the Federal Trade Commission, the three national credit reporting agencies are giving people weekly access to monitor their credit report — for free.
This is helpful news because staying on top of your credit report is one important tool to help manage your financial data.
Did a nursing home or assisted living facility take your stimulus check?
If a loved one lives in a nursing facility and you’re not sure what happened to their payment, talk with them as soon as possible. In addition, consider having a chat with the facility’s management. Make sure they understand that according to the Federal Trade Commission, those funds are tax credits and cannot be seized by the facility just because they’re on Medicaid. If you’ve experienced this already, tell your state attorney general’s office first, and then tell the FTC: ftc.gov/complaint.
Help Keep Kids Safe Online
Due to COVID-19, kids and adults are online more than ever, often unsupervised in the same space. Help kids stay safe. Learn more about measures parents, guardians, caregivers, and teachers can take to help protect children from becoming victims of online child predators.
Immediately report suspected online enticement or sexual exploitation of a child by calling 911, contacting the FBI at tips.fbi.gov, or filing a report with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) at 1-800-843-5678 or report.cybertip.org.
Report Hoarding & Price Gouging
If you have information on hoarding or price gouging of critical supplies necessary to respond to the spread of COVID-19 within the United States, report it to the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud by calling the National Hotline at (866) 720-5721 or via the NCDF Web Complaint Form.
Can Someone Who Has Been Quarantined for COVID-19 Spread the Illness to Others?
According to Stanford Health Care, being quarantined means being separated from people who have been exposed to COVID-19 but who have not had symptoms for the length of the incubation period of the disease. For COVID-19 that period is 14 days from the last date of exposure. Someone who has been released from quarantine is not considered a risk for spreading, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Read More Frequently Asked Questions COVID-19
Coronavirus and Your Mortgage
A new federal law, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, creates two protections for some borrowers (a temporary suspension for 60 days beginning 03-18-20 and a right to forbearance for 180 days). According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), you must have a federally-backed mortgage and be experiencing financial hardship because of the Coronavirus to be eligible. LEARN MORE
For additional guidance, the Federal Housing Finance Agency provides COVID-19 Information and Resources for both homeowners and renters.
Reporting COVID-19 Fraud
If you think you are a victim of a scam or attempted fraud involving COVID-19, you can report it without leaving your home by calling the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721 or via the National Center for Disaster Fraud Web Complaint Form.
Dealing with Debt Collectors During the Pandemic
Have you received a bill or a collection notice for debt you don’t recognize? The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) advises that you consider talking with the collector at least once, even if you can’t pay right away or don’t think you owe the money. That way, you can confirm whether it’s really your debt. If it is, you may be able to work out a payment plan or settlement. If you receive a call from a collection agency, find out who you are really dealing with; provide NO additional personal information to the caller; and don’t discuss the alleged debt until you get a “validation notice”.
Coronavirus and Your Student Loan Debt
If you have student loan debt, you’ve probably heard that the new Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act gives some flexibility to federal student loan borrowers. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the program is open from March 13th through September 30, 2020. LEARN MORE.
In addition, they provide helpful tips for managing your bills during COVID-19. Understanding these options can help you make more informed decisions about paying your bills and prioritizing your debts.
Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Warns 45 More Sellers of Scam Coronavirus Treatments
Every day we are reading about researchers studying potential ways to prevent, treat, or cure COVID-19. However, at this time there certainly are no products you can buy online, or services you can get at a neighborhood clinic, that are proven to work. To date, the FTC has sent more than 120 warning letters to marketers making false COVID-19 health claims for their products and services. For a complete list, see ftc.gov/coronavirus/warning-letters.
Did an Identity Thief Steal Your Stimulus Payment?
Do you think your economic impact payment has landed in the hands of an identity thief? You can report it to the Federal Trade Commission and the IRS from the same website. Visit IdentityTheft.gov, the government’s one-stop resource for people to report identity theft and get a personal recovery plan.
Be Wary of Ads for Coronavirus Test Kits
The FDA recently announced approval for one home test kit, which requires a doctor’s order. However, most test kits being advertised have not been approved by the FDA and aren’t necessarily accurate.
Instructions for Stimulus Payments Mistakenly Sent to Deceased Citizens
According to the IRS, a Stimulus Payment made to someone who died before receipt of the Payment should be returned to the IRS. Return the entire payment unless the payment was made to joint filers and one spouse had not died before receipt of the payment. In the latter case, you only need to return the portion of the Payment made on account of the decedent. This amount will be $1,200 unless adjusted gross income exceeded $150,000.
For instructions on how to return the payment CLICK HERE and view the details under Q41.
Avoid I.T. Scams
Targeted to businesses, an I.T. scam happens when a scammer calls or leaves a message claiming to be a member of your technology staff asking for a password or directing the recipient to download software. These scams pose a particular problem now due to what cybercrime experts call social engineering: the dark art of manipulating human behavior to facilitate fraud. Your employees already may be distracted by changes to their routine, and your tech support team is swamped.
Keep in touch with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
Sign up for Consumer Alerts to help spot scams: ftc.gov/subscribe.
Watch for the latest at ftc.gov/coronavirus.
Plus, Report Scams to the FTC by going to ftc.gov/complaint. Your report can help shut down these scammers.
Small Business Administration (SBA) Resources for Businesses with Government Contracts
The SBA provides guidance for a small business with government contracts if a situation occurs that prevents it from successfully performing its contract. They should reach out to their contracting officer and seek to obtain extensions before they receive cure notices or threats of termination. The SBA’s Procurement Center Representatives can assist affected small businesses to engage with their contracting officer. Use the Procurement Center Representative Directory to connect with the representative nearest you.
Grandparent Scams in The Age of Coronavirus
The Federal Trade Commission, (FTC) warns about the Grandparent Scam. In this situation, scammers pose as panicked grandchildren in trouble, calling or sending messages urging you to wire money immediately. They’ll say they need cash to help with an emergency – like paying a hospital bill or needing to leave a foreign country. They pull at your heartstrings so they can trick you into sending money before you realize it’s a scam.
Small Business Administration Express Bridge Loans
Express Bridge Loan Pilot Program allows small businesses who currently have a business relationship with an SBA Express Lender to quickly access up to $25,000 for disaster-related purposes. These loans can provide vital economic support to small businesses to help overcome the temporary loss of revenue they are experiencing and can be term loans or used to bridge the gap while applying for a direct SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan. If a small business has an urgent need for cash while waiting for decision and disbursement on an Economic Injury Disaster Loan, they may qualify for an SBA Express Bridge Loan.
Need help? Texas Gulf Bank is an approved SBA Lender.
* Loans subject to certain underwriting criteria required by the particular SBA Loan Program for which you are applying, as well as any lender SBA loan-specific qualifications.
Why Can’t I See Status of My Economic Impact (Stimulus) Payment?
In some cases, the GET MY PAYMENT app will be unable to tell you the status of your payment, according to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). You may receive this message for one of the following reasons:
- If you are not eligible for payment (see IRS.gov on eligibility)
- If you are required to file a tax return and have not filed in the tax year 2018 or 2019.
- If you recently filed your return or provided information through Non-Filers: Enter Your Payment Info on IRS.gov. Your payment status will be updated when processing is completed.
- If you are an SSA or RRB Form 1099 recipient, SSI, or V.A. benefit recipient – the IRS is working with your agency to issue your payment; your information is not available in this app yet.
You can recheck the app to see whether there has been an update to your information. GET MY PAYMENT data is updated once per day, so there’s no need to check back more frequently.
Unsupported Claims that Products Can Treat or Prevent Coronavirus
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have sent warning letters to seven companies allegedly selling unapproved products that may violate federal law by making deceptive or scientifically unsupported claims about their ability to treat Coronavirus (COVID-19).
The recipients are companies that advertise products—including teas, essential oils, and colloidal silver—as able to treat or prevent Coronavirus. According to the FDA, however, there are no approved vaccines, drugs, or investigational products currently available to treat or prevent the virus.
Check the Status of Your Economic Impact Payment
This app from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will give you information about:
- Your payment status
- Your payment type
- Whether the IRS needs more information from you, including bank account information
Eligibility for Economic Impact Payments
According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), U.S. citizens, permanent residents, and resident aliens are likely eligible for an Economic Impact Payment if they meet all these requirements:
- Have a valid Social Security number,
- Could not be claimed as a dependent by another taxpayer, and
- Had adjusted gross income under certain limits.
If you are an eligible individual, use the following chart.
Health Insurance Coverage for Testing & Treatment
According to the IRS, High-deductible health plans (HDHPs) can pay for 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)-related testing and treatment, without jeopardizing their status.
Read the press release on HDHPs
FCC Scam Glossary
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Scam Glossary describes robocall scams, spoofing scams, and related consumer fraud, which the FCC tracks through complaints filed by consumers, news reports, and notices from other government agencies, consumer groups, and industry sources. Glossary entries include links to more detailed information posted in the Consumer Help Center and to trusted external sources.
IRS Economic Impact Payment Information
Learn More about the IRS Economic Impact Payment Information Center. According to the IRS, for most taxpayers, payments are automatic, and no further action is needed. This includes taxpayers who filed tax returns in 2018 and 2019 and eligible retirees.
Business-Related Covid-19 Fraud
The Federal Trade Commission warns of 7 Coronavirus Scams Targeting Your Business Read More
Follow the Covid-19 Tax Relief Conversation on Social Media:
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BEWARE OF PAYCHECK PROTECTION PROGRAM (PPP) FRAUDSTERS
According to the Federal Trade Commission, fraudsters pose as companies offering Small Business Administration’s (SBA’s) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans to small business owners. These companies, who are misleading many small business owners, are NOT Small Business Administration on (SBA) affiliates.
Know the Rules on Testing for COVID-19
According to the IRS, high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) can pay for 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)-related testing and treatment, without jeopardizing their status. Read the press release on HDHPs
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) stated that not everyone needs to be tested for COVID-19; most people have mild illness and are able to recover at home. More information is available from the CDC to help you make decisions about seeking care or testing. LEARN MORE
FCC Reports of Hoax Text Message Campaigns
The Better Business Bureau warns us of a text message scam impersonating the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services informing recipients that they must take a "mandatory online COVID-19 test" with a malicious link, LEARN MORE about text message scams from the FCC.
Watch Out for False Health Tips
According to the World Health Organization, exposing yourself to the sun or to temperatures higher than 77 degrees (Fahrenheit) DOES NOT prevent the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Countries with hot weather have reported cases of COVID-19, as has the State of Texas. Learn more about the myths of this virus from the World Health Organization (WHO)
Avoid Social Engineering and Phishing Attacks-Security Tips from the CISA
According to the CISA a social engineering attack is when an attacker uses human interaction (social skills) to obtain or compromise information about an organization or its computer systems. An attacker may seem unassuming and respectable, possibly claiming to be a new employee, repair person, or researcher and even offering credentials to support that identity. LEARN MORE
Don’t Respond to Texts, Emails or Calls about Checks from the Government
Many people will begin receiving stimulus checks as part of the federal government response to COVID-19. According to the Federal Trade Commission, no one will call or text you to verify your personal information or bank account details in order to "release" these funds. The Treasury Department expects most people to receive their payments via direct-deposit information that the department has on file from prior tax filings. The details are still coming together, CLICK HERE to learn more.
Beware of Emails Claiming to be from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) or World Health Organization (WHO)
Hackers have learned how to make email addresses that look official with logos and all. Use sites like coronavirus.gov and usa.gov to get the latest information. And don’t click on links from sources you don’t know.
How to Spot a Fake Check Scam
Are you a possible victim of an online payment scam? It usually starts with someone offering to:
• Buy something you advertised for sale
• Pay you to work at home
• Give you an “advance” on a sweepstakes or you’ve won
• Give you the first installment on the millions you’ll receive for agreeing to transfer money in a foreign country to your bank account for safekeeping
Facebook Lover/Partner Scam
This type of fraudster builds a relationship with you online. Typically, they are from another country or working overseas in the oil business. They eventually convince you to either accept checks to deposit for them, or they open an account in your name and you deposit checks from that account into your account here. You are then asked to either wire the money to them or send it to them in another electronic format. The checks are fraudulent and then returned, leaving you owing the bank possibly thousands of dollars!
With social distancing rules in place, people are looking for companionship online. Be smart about your interactions:
1. Trust your gut about new people, if something seems off ... it probably is.
2. Don't be afraid to verify what a person is telling you. Google facts they give, like a place of employment or favorite bar to confirm these details are real.
3. Protect yourself by not divulging too much information about yourself too quickly. Also, keep details on your social media profiles simple.
Don’t be fooled by ads and emails from well-known “brands” promising to pay you for using your car as advertising space. Here’s what really happens: The “company” sends you a check. You are then to send them the majority of the money to purchase the “supplies” to put on your vehicle to advertise, typically keeping $500 as your first “paycheck.” These checks are typically in the $3,000-$4,000 range. The check is fraudulent and returned, leaving you owing the bank possibly thousands of dollars!
Employment Websites use a variety of scams, but more often than not they include your potential employer sending you a check. You are then instructed to wire a portion of those funds back to the employer for various reasons, while you keep part of the funds. The check is fraudulent and returned, leaving you owing the bank possibly thousands of dollars!
Never ‘Pay to Play’
There is no legitimate reason for someone who is giving you money to ask you to wire money back or send you more than the exact amount —that’s a red flag that it’s a scam. If a stranger wants to pay you for something, insist on a cashier’s check for the exact amount, preferably from a local bank or one with a local branch.
Do Not Respond to Online Solicitations for “Easy Money”
Many Americans are in the middle of severe financial hardships right now. So it's tempting to click on a social media or email scam offering “quick ways to earn extra cash,” but keep in mind that easy money is rarely legal or real money.
If you think someone is trying to pull a fake check scam, don’t deposit it—report it.
TGB staff members are experts in spotting fraudulent checks.
5 Things You Can Do To Avoid A Coronavirus Scam
Follow this link provided by the Federal Trade Commission for helpful information about how to avoid scams
8 Tips for Banking Online Safely
The probability of fraudulent attempts to gain access to your bank accounts, or criminals peddling fake products, drastically increases during stressful situations such as this.