Delia is a Santa Monica resident who got laid off from her job when her employer abruptly shut down the company because of COVID-19. She wasn’t sure how she would pay her bills this month, so she looked forward to receiving her federal stimulus check. Delia answered her phone eagerly whenever it rang, hoping to receive a call about the many job applications she had filled out online. An unknown caller one day told Delia that he had good news – she could receive her federal stimulus check right away if she provided some personal information about herself.
Delia hung up quickly, because she thought the call might be a scam. She was smart to do so – the federal government would never call to ask for her Social Security number or bank-account information.
Scammers are already hard at work trying to separate you from your money during these difficult times. In addition to stimulus fraud, scammers are touting treatments, vaccines, and in-home tests for the novel coronavirus. None of these offers are currently proven, approved, or valid.
Keep these tips in mind when navigating information about the COVID-19 pandemic:
• According to the IRS, federal stimulus checks will be distributed automatically by direct deposit or by paper check, depending on what information you gave the IRS when filing your taxes. Stimulus funds are expected to be distributed in mid-April. If you receive a check now or receive a check at any time with an odd amount (especially ending in cents), it’s a scam.
• The government will not contact you by phone, text, or email to ask for personal information, demand that you verify information, or require you to pay a processing fee.
• Anything offered as a cure, vaccine, or test for COVID-19 will at best only cost you money. At worst, it could harm you or your loved ones.
• Scammers use sophisticated tools to trick you, such as spoofing caller-IDs. Don’t assume that a call is coming from the number or agency listed on the caller-ID. Hang up on scammers, or better yet, don’t answer their calls.
• Don’t click on ads or links in emails. If you hear from a familiar company or government agency and want to respond, use contact information that you already have, not information provided in the email or phone message.
• Beware of offers to sell face masks, gloves, cleaning products, or other emergency supplies that are in short supply. Search for reviews of websites or companies making these offers.
• If you’re seeking relief from mortgage payments, utility bills, or credit-card payments, contact the bank or utility using the information provided on your bill.
The IRS will post information about stimulus payments here as it becomes available: www.irs.gov/coronavirus.
To make a complaint against a business based in Santa Monica, contact the Public Rights/Consumer Protection Division at (310) 458-8336.
Submitted by Andrea Cavanaugh