Second Wave of Stimulus Checks Brings More Scams

The second wave of stimulus checks only started hitting checking accounts a few weeks ago, and the BBB  and the FTC are already warning of related scams.

According to the FTC, American taxpayers lost more than $211 million due to COVID-19 scams, with $20.9 million of that amount connected to the first round of stimulus checks.

Don’t get scammed! Protect yourself by learning all about these scams so you know when you’re being targeted.

How the scams play out

Stimulus check scams can take the form of phishing scams, in which a criminal asks victims to provide personal information to receive their check, and then instead uses that information to empty the victim’s account.

In other variants of the stimulus check scam, a victim receives an email prompting them to download an embedded link to receive their check.The link, of course, will infect the victim’s computer with malware.

In yet another stimulus check scam, a criminal impersonates an IRS official or a representative of another government office demanding a processing fee before the check can be sent.

Finally, there have been reports of taxpayers receiving checks that appear to be authentic stimulus checks, but are actually fraudulent. They deposit the check and, soon afterward, a scammer reaches out to them to inform them the check amount was incorrect and they must return some of the funds. Unfortunately, a few days later, the financial institution finds that the check is fake and it will not clear. The victim is now out the money they returned to the “IRS.”

Red flags

Unfortunately, technology has made it easy for scammers to spoof a Caller ID and to create bogus websites that look authentic. If you know what to look for, you can beat them at their game and recognize a scam before it gets past the first step.

Here are five red flags of stimulus check scams:

1. Unsolicited calls or emails

It’s best to avoid answering unsolicited calls and/or emails from unknown contacts to protect yourself from a stimulus check scam. Similarly, never click on a link in an unsolicited email or text message, as it may contain malware.

According to the BBB Scam Tracker, scammers have also been contacting people through robocalls and leaving messages about the stimulus checks and direct deposits. These calls should likewise be ignored.

2. Messages that ask you to verify or provide sensitive information

The BBB is warning of emails and text messages asking citizens to verify or supply information to receive their stimulus checks. Sometimes, the victim will receive an email instructing them to click on a link to receive their benefit payments. This, too, is a scam. The IRS will not call, text or email any taxpayer to verify their information.

3. High-pressure tactics

If a phone call or email demands immediate action on your part and uses a threat of losing your stimulus payment, you’re likely looking at a scam. There is no action you need to take to receive your check.

4. Fee solicitations

There is no processing fee or any other charge attached to the stimulus payments.

“If you do answer a call, and it’s about your stimulus payment, keep in mind that U.S. government agencies won’t ask you to pay anything up front to receive your funds. Anyone who does is a scammer,” cautions Jennifer Leach, associate director for the FTC’s division of consumer and business education.

There’s also no way to pay extra for receiving your stimulus payment earlier.

5. Inflated check amount

“We’ve seen a lot of scams involving bogus checks that look like government checks in the past year,” says Paige Schaffer, CEO of global identity and cyber protection services at Generali Global Assistance.

For the best way to protect yourself from this scam, the BBB recommends that all taxpayers receiving their stimulus payment via paper check verify that the check is authentic before depositing it in their checking account. Look up the agency or organization that allegedly sent the check to see if it really exists, and check the status of your payment to see if you actually should have received it.

Stay safe!

Your Turn: Have you been targeted by a stimulus check scam? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn More:
wwmt.com
marketwatch.com
cnbc.com
bbb.org

8 Ways to Spot a Counterfeit Bill

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it a wave of scams, with no signs of slowing down. These scams are also producing a surge of counterfeit bills into circulation. Using cutting-edge technology, scammers create bills that look just like the real thing to the untrained eye. Unfortunately, once counterfeit bills are passed, their new owner can become liable for passing them on to someone else.

In an effort to combat the reach of counterfeit bills, the Secret Service and the U.S. Treasury have added several identifying features to legitimate dollar bills to help citizens and business owners determine whether they are authentic. Here are some signs that can tell you if a bill is the real thing:

A hologram of the face image on the bill: When held up to the light, the hologram on the bill should match the face on the front of the bill. Scammers will often bleach a lower denomination bill and try to pass it off as a bill of a higher denomination — but they can’t change the interior hologram. So, if the $100 bill is really a counterfeit bill created from a $5 one, holding the bill up to the light will reveal the face of Abraham Lincoln, and not Benjamin Franklin, who appears on authentic $100s.

A thin vertical strip of text spelling out the bill’s denomination: Holding the note up to the light will also display this sign of authenticity on genuine bills.

Color-shifting ink: All new-series bills, except for the $5 bill, were designed with this trick: If you tilt the bill back and forth, the numeral in the lower right hand corner will shift from green to black and back to green again.

Watermark: The watermark of the bill can be seen in an unprinted space to the right of the portrait when the bill is held up to the light.

Security thread: Also apparent when the bill is held up to light, the security thread is a thin strip running from the top of the face on the bill until its bottom. The security strip is positioned to the right of the portrait on $10 and $50 bills, and to the left of the portrait on $5s, $20s and $100s.

Ultraviolet glow: You’ll need an ultraviolet light for this to work, but it’s an instant reveal about the bill’s authenticity. When held up to an ultraviolet light, $5 bills glow blue, $10 bills glow orange, $20 bills glow green, $50 bills glow yellow, and $100 bills glow red.

Microprinting: For yet another sign of a bill’s authenticity, you can look for tiny microprinting on the bill’s security thread, which spells out its denomination in all-caps text.

Fine line printing patterns: Look for very fine lines behind the portrait and on the other side of the bill as well.

What to do if you’ve been passed a counterfeit bill

If a note you’ve been passed does not hold up to the authenticity test, and you believe it’s a counterfeit bill, the U.S. Treasury advises the following course of action:

  • Do not put yourself in a position of danger.
  • Do not return the bill to the passer.
  • If possible, delay the passer with an excuse.
  • Take note of the passer’s physical appearance and record their vehicle license plate if possible.
  • Contact your local police department or call your local Secret Service office.
  • Write your initials and date in the white border area of the suspected counterfeit note.
  • Do not handle the counterfeit note. Place it inside a protective cover, a plastic bag or an envelope until you can pass it on to an identified Secret Service Special agent. You can also mail it to your nearest Secret Service office.

Counterfeit cash can be harder to spot than you think. Don’t get stuck holding the bag! If you think you’ve been passed a counterfeit bill, and the note is missing the signs listed above, follow the advice of the U.S. Treasury to keep your hands clean.

Your Turn: Have you ever encountered a counterfeit bill? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn More:
losspreventionmedia.com
mentalfloss.com
secretservice.gov
businessknowhow.com
wvnews.com

COVID-19 Texting Scam

Cartoon of a touchscreen phone with COVID-19 graphicThe coronavirus pandemic has been raging on American shores for several months, but scammers are still finding new ways to exploit the panic, fear and uncertainty surrounding the virus to con people out of their money. The latest in a string of coronavirus scams involves a simple text message with criminal intent.

Here’s all you need to know about the coronavirus text scam.

The scam starts out with the victim receiving an alarming text message informing them that someone they’ve recently been in contact with is infected with COVID-19. They are then told to self-quarantine and to get tested for the virus.

Here is the actual text from one of these scams:
“Someone who came in contact with you tested positive or has shown symptoms for COVID-19 & recommends you self-isolate/get tested.”

The text also includes a link for the recipient to click for more information. Many unsuspecting people who read these messages innocently click on the link and play right into the scammers’ hands. The link provides the scammer with access to the victim’s device. The scammer can then scrape the victim’s personal information off the phone and use it to empty the victim’s accounts, open lines of credit in their name or even steal their identity.

If you receive a text message like the one described above, do not respond or click on any embedded links. Report the text to local law enforcement agencies, place the number associated with the message on your phone’s “block number” list and delete the message. You can also warn your friends about the circulating scam to keep them from falling victim.

Stay vigilant and stay safe!

Your Turn:
Have you been targeted by a coronavirus texting scam? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn More:
fox29.com
katu.com
consumer.ftc.gov

Beware of Coronavirus Scams

Man staring menacingly at camera while wearing a medical maskScammers are notorious for capitalizing on fear, and the coronavirus outbreak is no exception. Showing an appalling lack of the most basic morals, scammers have set up fake websites, bogus funding collections and more in an effort to trick the fearful and unsuspecting out of their money.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has published on its website a warning against email scams connected to the coronavirus. The agency claims it has received reports from around the world about phishing attempts mentioning coronavirus on an almost daily basis.

Closer to home, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is warning against a surge in coronavirus scams, which are being executed with surprising sophistication, so they may be difficult for even the keenest of eyes to spot.

The best weapons against these scams are awareness and education. When people know about circulating scams and how to identify them, they’re already several steps ahead of the scammers. Here’s all you need to know about coronavirus-related scams.

How the scams play out
There are several scams exploiting the fear and uncertainty surrounding the virus. Here are some of the most prevalent:

The fake funding scam
In this scam, victims receive bogus emails, text messages or social media posts asking them to donate money to a research team that is supposedly on the verge of developing a drug to treat COVID-19. Others claim they are nearing a vaccine for immunizing the population against the virus. There have also been ads circulating on the internet with similar requests. Unfortunately, nearly all of these are fakes, and any money donated to these “funds” will help line the scammers’ pockets.

The bogus health agency
There is so much conflicting information on the coronavirus that it’s really a no-brainer that scammers are exploiting the confusion. Scammers are sending out alerts appearing to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the WHO; however, they’re actually created by the scammers. These emails sport the logo of the agencies that allegedly sent them, and the URL is similar to those of the agencies as well. Some scammers will even invent their own “health agency,” such as “The Health Department,” taking care to evoke authenticity with bogus contact information and logos.

Victims who don’t know better will believe these missives are sent by legitimate agencies. While some of these emails and posts may actually provide useful information, they often also spread misinformation to promote fear-mongering, such as nonexistent local diagnoses of the virus. Even worse, they infect the victims’ computers with malware which is then used to scrape personal information off the infected devices.

The phony purchase order
Scammers are hacking the computer systems at medical treatment centers and obtaining information about outstanding orders for face masks and other supplies. The scammers then send the buyer a phony purchase order listing the requested supplies and asking for payment. The employee at the treatment center wires payment directly into the scammer’s account. Unfortunately, they’ll have to pay the bill again when contacted by the legitimate supplier.

Preventing scams
Basic preventative measures can keep scammers from making you their next target.

As always, it’s important to keep the anti-malware and antivirus software on your computer up to date, and to strengthen the security settings on all of your devices.
Practice responsible browsing when online. Never download an attachment from an unknown source or click on links embedded in an email or social media post from an unknown individual. Don’t share sensitive information online, either. If you’re unsure about a website’s authenticity, check the URL and look for the lock icon and the “s” after the “http” indicating the site is secure.

Finally, it’s a good idea to stay updated on the latest news about the coronavirus to avoid falling prey to misinformation. Check the actual CDC and WHO websites for the latest updates. You can donate funds toward research on these sites as well.

Spotting the scams
Scammers give themselves away when they ask for payment via specific means, including a wire transfer or prepaid gift card. Scams are also easily spotted by claims of urgency, such as “Act now!” Another giveaway is poor writing skills, including grammatical errors, awkward syntax and misspelled words. In the coronavirus scams, “Breaking information” alerts appearing to be from health agencies are another sign of a scam.

You can keep yourself safe from the coronavirus by practicing good hygiene habits and avoid coronavirus scams by practicing healthy internet usage. Keep yourself in the know about the latest developments.

Your Turn:
Have you been targeted by a coronavirus scam? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn More:
consumer.ftc.gov
wsj.com
blog.malwarebytes.com