How to Avoid Coronavirus-Related Scams Amid Plans of Government Payout to U.S. Citizens

United States lawmakers are working on a $1 trillion stimulus package to provide relief to Americans across the country who have been adversely affected by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Included in the package is a measure that would send checks to Americans, though the amount of money and who would receive the checks have yet to be decided.

A Reddit thread created by user EricPro21 and posted in Reddit's LPT (Life Pro Tips) channel received a lot of attention, as it warned Americans of the possibility that scammers may use the news of this governmental measure as an opportunity to rip-off private records from unsuspecting Americans--such as social security numbers and bank account information.

"Since there are reports that the United States Government will possibly be sending money by check or direct deposit to American citizens 'shortly,' the [Federal Trade Commission] has made a list of three important tips to keep in mind," the thread stated.

The Reddit thread listed the three points posted Wednesday by Jennifer Leach, the associate director of the division of consumer and business education for the FTC, in the agency website's blog:

"1. The government will not ask you to pay anything up front to get this money. No fees. No charges. No nothing.

2. The government will not call to ask for your Social Security number, bank account, or credit card number. Anyone who does is a scammer.

3. These reports of checks aren't yet a reality. Anyone who tells you they can get you the money now is a scammer."

Leach also stated that while the FTC would normally wait for what the government measure would actually look like before posting something like this, "these aren't normal times."

"We predict that the scammers are gearing up to take advantage of this. So, remember: no matter what this payment winds up being, only scammers will ask you to pay to get it. If you spot one of these scams, please tell the Federal Trade Commission: www.ftc.gov/complaint," Leach wrote.

Colleen Tressler, a consumer education specialist for the FTC, posted more examples of scams to the agency's website Thursday that have been popping up, as scammers try to take advantage of the pandemic to steal from Americans. Among these new scams are fake charities, fake emails and text messages, robocalls, and general misinformation and rumor.

One type of scam, Tressler wrote, comes in the form of "undelivered goods" where "online sellers claim they have in-demand products, like cleaning, household, and health and medical supplies."

To avoid falling victim to this scam, Tressler recommends consumers "check out the seller by searching online for the person or company's name, phone number and email address, plus words like 'review,' 'complaint' or 'scam.' If everything checks out, pay by credit card and keep a record of your transaction."

Nicole M. Drayton, the public affairs specialist and social media manager at the FTC, told Newsweek in an email that the FTC has been posting information warning consumers about coronavirus-related scams since early February.

"This includes blog posts and a press release announcing seven joint warning letters issued with the FDA to sellers of deceptively marketed coronavirus 'treatment' and 'cures.' ...The FTC says it will not hesitate to send additional letters and/or bring enforcement actions to protect consumers from deceptively marketed products such as these," Drayton stated in the email.

"Consumers should know that at this time, there is no known product that can treat or cure the virus...It's also very important consumers continue to file complaints with the FTC if they feel they have seen or been defrauded by a coronavirus-related scam. This is one of the best ways we can not only get information about potential scams out there, but where they are being seen geographically. Consumers who feel they have been defrauded by a coronavirus-related scam should file a complaint with the FTC online, providing as much information about the scam as possible."

Government-related scams are not uncommon in the U.S. Since 2014, there have been over 1.3 million reports of government impostor scams that have led to over $450 million in losses to victims, according to the FTC. Americans should also be wary of fake check scams, where scammers send people fake checks and ask victims to cash them and send the money back to the scammers. The FTC received reports of 27,000 fake check scams in 2019 alone, which led to over $28 million in losses.

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