As the COVID19 pandemic grips the nation, loss of jobs and stay-at-home orders are leading to financial troubles for a large segment of our population. Many people are anxiously awaiting a stimulus check from the government, and the need for charitable contributions is high. Scammers are finding ways to profit from these situations, and people should beware of anyone who contacts them claiming to be a representative of a government agency or charitable organization.
Government agencies will not contact you by phone unless you called them first. Most agencies or institutions like banks will only ask for the last four digits of your Social Security number for identification over the phone. The Social Security Administration released the following statement on its website:
SSA will not suspend or decrease Social Security benefit payments or Supplemental Security Income payments due to the current COVID-19 pandemic. Scammers may mislead people into believing they need to provide personal information or pay by gift card, wire transfer, internet currency, or by mailing cash to maintain regular benefit payments during this period. Any communication that says SSA will suspend or decrease your benefits due to COVID-19 is a scam, whether you receive it by letter, text, email, or phone call. Report Social Security scams to the SSA Inspector General online at oig.ssa.gov .
Other scams involve calls or emails from people posing as religious organizations or charities. An article on a consumer website relates the experience of a pastor who was impersonated by someone asking for donations via email. The scammer had created an email address using the pastor’s name and emailed church members asking for financial donations. The impersonated pastor advises people to check to make sure email addresses are legitimate. If you can’t verify the email, then don’t respond.
Scammers copy, or spoof, phone numbers, too. Technology exists that allows phone numbers to be copied to show up on your incoming calls. Calls can seem to be coming from a local phone or, in some cases, the phone of someone you know. One popular scam is the “person in need” scam. A caller will pretend to be a relative or friend in an emergency situation asking for money to help. If you don’t know for sure the caller is who they claim to be, hang up and call the person back at their number.
According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the best thing to do if anyone contacts you and asks for your Social Security number, bank account number, credit card information, Medicare ID number, drivers license number or any other personally identifiable information by phone, in person, by text message, or email is to report it. Report scams to ftc.gov/complaint . The Eldercare Locator , a public service of the U.S. Administration on Aging, can connect older adults and their families to services. You can also call 1-800-677-1116.