Author: Alex Delaney

Scams have become a part of our lives in the age of technology. And when a crisis occurs, such as the Covid 19 pandemic, the scammers come calling, knocking, and texting. Their sheer relentlessness can overwhelm people who are already struggling to make sense of the current craziness. The only tools to fight this vicious assault on our finances are to be vigilant, stay informed, and make sure your elderly loved ones are careful.

The Golden Rule of avoiding scams: Never give out any personal information to a caller, or through unsolicited texts or emails. Always verify the information by searching the internet for the actual business website, but be vigilant, scammers utilize fraudulent websites. They often focus on offering help to trick you into providing your social security number, bank account numbers, credit card information and other personal information. Remember: Scammers are working hard to get your personal information. Don’t make their job easy.

If you believe you have been contacted by a scammer, contact the FBI at www.ic3.gov. They will use your information to track and stop scammers.

Covid 19 related scams:

Contract Tracers: Contract tracers are state health department workers who are tasked with tracking people who have been exposed to Covid 19. They may call, email, text, or come to your home. They will request your name and address, some basic health information and the names of places and people you have come into contact with.  

  • They will not request your social security number, nor any banking information. 
  • They will not send information for you to download. 
  • You will not be required to click on any links. 
  • They are paid through the state and do not require any payment from you.  
  • Anyone who asks for more than the above information, or request payment is a scammer. Report them to the Georgia Department of Public Health at 404-657-2700, and the US Federal Trade Commission at FTC.gov/complaint.

Stimulus Payments: The Federal Government will utilize your tax information for stimulus checks without any action needed on your behalf. If you have received your prior stimulus check, and/or tax returns via direct deposit, this is how you will receive the new round of stimulus payment.  If your last payment was mailed, the government will send the new check to the same address.

If you have not filed a tax return lately, you can go to irs.gov/coronavirus and access the “Non-filer” portal to determine how to receive your check. You can check your payment status by going to the “Get My Payment” tab at the same website.

  • The US Government will not try to contact you by phone, email, text message or social media. 
  • They will not request any banking or identification information, although you can add this information on the IRS website for direct deposit. 
  • They will not send postcards with a password to be used online for verifying your payment. 
  • Any such information should only be provided by going to the irs.gov website. 

Ignore any contact that requires you to pay to get your stimulus check. This is a scam.

Do not fall for fake check scams. This is when scammers impersonate the IRS and tell you that your check is more than it should be, requiring you to send some funds back.

Test Kit Scams: There are many ads on social media that advertise test kits, masks, shields and other pandemic items. Always check their website and follow up by looking them up on the Better Business Bureau website. Most advertised test kits are not FDA approved and are not accurate. Many other items require payment, but items are not shipped.  Check the reviews and check for any scams associated with their name before making any purchases. Always pay by credit card and keep a record of your transaction.

Charity Scams: Always research any charity before opening your wallet. Check their ratings and reports. Look for reviews, complaints, and any allegations of scams. You can also contact these organizations for the validity of the charity: BBB Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, CharityWatch and GuideStar. You can also go to the IRS’s Tax Exempt Organization Search to see if your donation would be tax deductible. 

The Georgia Secretary of State is tasked with charity regulation through the Securities and Business Regulations. You can reach them at 404-656-3920, or charities@sos.ga.gov.

Fraud involving payment of Federal taxes should be reported to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.

“Person in Need” scams:

My mother received a call last year, supposedly from my son. The caller informed her he had gone to Boston for a wedding, got drunk, wrecked his rental car, and was arrested. He needed bail money so he could get home and avoid losing his job. My mom bought it hook, line and sinker.  Fortunately, she decided to call me while she was in line at the Western Union and I was able to let her know my son was fine and it was a scam. The person calling also told her he sounded strange because he had broken his nose in the wreck, thereby quelling any concern about a strange voice.  

Scammers will play on sympathy or anything else that will give them an edge in convincing you to send money. They push you to keep the call a secret and to act quickly. Always check on your loved one before sending any money. Make sure your older relatives know about this scam as it usually targets older people.

Social Security scams: Several of my friends, and I, have received emails or phone messages directing us to call as our social security number has been compromised. Others have received calls about their social security benefits are being suspended or decreased due to the pandemic and they must act fast to get their benefits reinstated. 

As with any government program, always call the direct number for the office in question. Never respond to the number left, or any emails or texts. Report scams to the SSA Inspector General at oig.ssa.gov.