Scammers are already out in force trying to take advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic. Keep yourself, your money, and your personal information safe by heeding these warnings from the FTC and SBA.
While a crisis like the current COVID-19 pandemic brings out the best in most people, it can also be a siren call that brings the scum of the world slithering out of their holes in search of needy and unsuspecting victims.
As stressed consumers and small businesses seek information about government stimulus packages and try to determine what they have to get a relief check or apply for funding through the SBA, these crooks will use any tool available to capture their victims’ personal information, financial data, and money.
They may claim in an email or phone call that they are from a government agency, or that they’re an organization that can speed up government relief payments to you. Or they may use (spoof) an email address of someone you know, or one that looks like someone you know or like it comes from a government agency.
They’ll do things like ask you to click on a link that takes you to a page that asks for personal information, such as your Social Security number or bank account information. Or they may take you to a page that installs a virus on your computer and captures all the login information to your office, your bank, and financial institutions. If they contact you on the phone they may ask for financial or personal data. And that’s just a few of the tricks they’ll use.
Tips to Avoid Getting Scammed
The best way to avoid being a victim of such COVID-19 related (and other) scams is to be aware they exist and understand what to avoid.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Small Business Administration (SBA) are both warning consumers and businesses to stay alert and avoid fraud. The FTC’s warnings focus on fraud related to the individual stimulus payment that will be provided to all individuals and families in the US that meet the income eligibility requirement. The SBA’s warnings focus on scams aimed at small businesses. Here’s what to know about both.
Facts About Individual Stimulus Payments
- Individual Stimulus Payments don’t require any action on your part. As long as you filed a tax return in 2018 or 2019 and your income qualifies you to receive a check, the government already has the information it needs to send you the money. They don’t need you to give them a social security number or banking information.
- You don’t have to sign up to get an individual relief check. Anyone calling to ask for your personal information, like your Social Security number, PayPal account, or bank information is a scammer, plain and simple. Also be on the lookout for email phishing scams, where scammers pretend to be from the government and ask for your information as part of the “sign-up” process for the checks.
- To set up direct deposit of your check, communicate only with the IRS at irs.gov/coronavirus. And you only need to do this if you didn’t give the IRS your bank information on your 2018 or 2019 return. In the coming weeks, the IRS will be setting up an online form available through irs.gov/coronavirus. Don’t enter information anywhere else, and never give out information in response to an email, text, or call.
- No one has early access to this money. Anyone that claims to is a scammer.
Facts for Small Businesses
- The SBA does not initiate contact on either 7(a) or Disaster loans. If you are proactively contacted by someone claiming to be from the SBA, suspect fraud.
- The SBA does not provide grants to small businesses. The SBA provides guarantees to lenders to encourage them to make loans to small businesses. If you are contacted via social media about an SBA grant program for small businesses, suspect fraud.
- If you are contacted by someone promising to get approval of an SBA loan but requires any payment upfront or offers a high-interest bridge loan in the interim, suspect fraud.
- Look out for phishing attacks/scams utilizing the SBA logo. These may be attempts to obtain your personally identifiable information (PII) to obtain personal banking access or to install ransomware/malware on your computer.
- If you are in the process of applying for an SBA loan and receive email correspondence asking for PII, ensure that the referenced application number is consistent with the actual application number.
- The SBA limits the fees a broker can charge a borrower to 3% for loans $50,000 or less and 2% for loans $50,000 to $1,000,000 with an additional .25% on amounts over $1,000,000. Any attempt to charge more than these fees is inappropriate.
- Any email communication from the SBA will come from accounts ending with gov.
- The presence of an SBA logo on a webpage does not guaranty the information is accurate or endorsed by the SBA. Please cross-reference any information you receive with information available at sba.gov.
- If you have a question about getting an SBA disaster loan, call 800-659-2955 or send an email to email@example.com.
- If you have questions about other SBA lending products, call the SBA’s Answer Desk at 800-827-5722 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Report any suspected fraud to OIG’s Hotline at 800-767-0385 or online at, https://www.sba.gov/about-sba/oversight-advocacy/office-inspector-general/office-inspector-general-hotline.