SEATTLE — Scammers are working hard as tens of millions of Americans start receiving their stimulus checks.
The Federal Trade Commission says it received more than 15,000 complaints related to COVID-19, costing consumers nearly $12 million, at an average of $800 per complaint.
Law enforcement agencies and consumer advocates are reminding people to be extra vigilant.
"There are a lot of individuals in the Puget Sound in the greater Northwest region that can really use some relief right now," said Ben Spradling, spokesperson for the Better Business Bureau Northwest-Pacific. "Because you need that help, you're going to be looking for help in ways that maybe a month ago you would have just dismissed. So, it's important to be super vigilant."
The Better Business Bureau published a list of top scams related to coronavirus, including phony cures, stimulus check scams, phishing scams, government impersonation scams, employment scams and price gouging.
It's important for consumers to avoid giving personal information in an email and to watch for suspicious links. The government is not going to ask you to confirm any personal or banking information over email or text, and the government will not demand a processing fee for you to receive a stimulus. The government will also not charge you to expedite your stimulus check.
IRS criminal investigators in the Seattle office are working at all hours of the day with local law enforcement to track down scam and fraud cases. However, they say the best advice is to not engage with anyone you don't know.
"Scammers are preying on people that need this economic impact payment," said Corinne Kalve, IRS criminal investigator. "So my suggestion is, don't answer the phone on those calls, delete the texts, delete the emails, and you'll keep yourself safe. But also talk to your loved ones, right? Remind them, remind other people – don't get caught up in one of these scams."
Consumer advocates say even engaging with a scammer to let them know you're on to them could be dangerous for you. Once a scammer knows your phone or email is active, they can sell your information to other scammers.
If you'd like to report a scam, you can contact the Federal Trade Commission here.
Do you have a question or concern about money during the coronavirus pandemic? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.