FTC warns of scams ahead of COVID-19 checks

OKEECHOBEE — As the U.S. Congress works through a relief package that is likely to give most Americans a one-time payment of $1,200, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is already issuing warnings about possible scams.

“As the coronavirus takes a growing toll on people’s pocketbooks, there are reports that the government will soon be sending money by check or direct deposit to each of us,” said Jennifer Leach, associate director of FTC’s Division of Consumer and Business Education. “The details are still being worked out, but there are a few really important things to know, no matter what this looks like.”

The FTC wants people to know that the government will not ask you to pay anything up front to get the stimulus money. There will be no fees and no charges. Nothing. If someone calls or emails you and asks you to pay a fee to receive your check, they are a scammer.

Similarly, the government will not call to ask for your Social Security number, bank account or credit card number.

“Normally we’d wait to know what the payment plan looks like before we put out a message like this,” said Ms. Leach. “But these aren’t normal times and we predict that the scammers are gearing up to take advantage of this.”

The elderly are particularly vulnerable to these kinds of scams, and scammers often target them specifically. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), con artists know the effects of age on memory, and they are counting on elderly victims not being able to supply enough detailed information to investigators. In addition, the victims’ realization that they have been swindled may take weeks — or more likely, months — after contact with the fraudster. This extended time frame makes it even more difficult to remember details from the events.

The FBI also says that sometimes older Americans are less likely to report a fraud because they don’t know who to report it to, are too ashamed at having been scammed, or don’t know they have been scammed. Elderly victims may not report crimes, for example, because they are concerned that relatives may think the victims no longer have the mental capacity to take care of their own financial affairs.

“No matter what this payment winds up being,” continued Ms. Leach, “only scammers will ask you to pay to get it. If you spot one of these scams, tell the Federal Trade Commission by visting www.ftc.gov/complaint. We’re doing our best to stop these scammers in their tracks, and your report will help.”

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