Beware of coronavirus-related government check scams, BBB advises

Captil Building, Check, Coronavirus

ST. LOUIS, Mo. (Release from BBB, March 20, 2020) – As the federal government weighs sending economic stimulus checks to Americans affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Better Business Bureau (BBB) reminds consumers to be wary of scammers who may take advantage of media reports on the possible relief payments.

“Moments of crisis provide scammers with the perfect opportunity to take advantage of panicked consumers,” said Michelle L. Corey, BBB St. Louis president and CEO. “Consumers should be very cautious about what reports they trust and to whom they give their personal information regarding any government relief during the COVID-19 crisis.”

BBB Scam Tracker received more than 1,200 reports of government grant scams in 2019 and about 180 reports of such scams so far in 2020. These scammers — who make contact by phone, email or social media — often impersonate a government agency and request personal and/or banking information in order to verify the target’s eligibility for some sort of government payment. In reality, there is no money, and the victim’s identity may be stolen as a result of sharing these personal details.

A Memphis, Tennessee, woman told BBB in March 2020 she had received a message from someone claiming to be from the “U.S. Emergency Grants Federation” after clicking on a social media post about a purported coronavirus-related grant for seniors. The woman said the scammer requested her personal information to see if she qualified for the grant; when she gave a fake Social Security number, she was instantly told she qualified and would need to pay a small processing fee and tax in order to claim her grant.

BBB recommends the following:

  • Free money doesn’t come easy. Obtaining a government grant is an involved process where the grant seeker pursues the funds, not the other way around. If someone is actively soliciting you to give you money, that’s a red flag that you are dealing with an impostor.
  • Do not pay any money for a “free” government grant. If you have to pay money to claim a “free” government grant, it is not really free. A real government agency will not ask you to pay an advanced processing fee.
  • Check for look-alikes. Be sure to do your research and see if an agency or organization actually exists. Find contact info on your own and call them to be sure the person you’ve heard from is legitimate. The only official list of all U.S. federal grant-making agencies is www.grants.gov. Information about any coronavirus-related stimulus or relief payments will come from official government sources once legislation creating these payments has been signed into law.
  • Be careful with unsolicited calls asking for your banking information. Scammers will cold call, asking basic questions to see if you qualify for a grant, and then ask for your banking information saying they need to collect a one-time processing fee and directly deposit your money.

BBB has more consumer and business tips specific to the coronavirus pandemic at bbb.org/coronavirus.

Report any scams to BBB Scam Tracker. Learn how to avoid scams by reading BBB’s 10 Steps to Avoid Scams.

For assistance, go to bbb.org or call 888-996-3887.

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