Scammers never rest: they are constantly trying to get your personal information. The global pandemic is no exception. Each day, more and more people are affected by scams. Here’s everything you need to know to protect yourself.
As millions of Americans file for unemployment due to the Coronavirus crisis, scammers are improving their methods to try to steal personal information and access the benefits.
So, you should learn how to avoid becoming a target of scammers! Check out these tips to protect yourself from the most common unemployment scams.
• Paying to file for unemployment
Always remember that filing for unemployment is totally free! You don't need to pay to complete your application. NEVER.
So, if you receive an email or a phone call claiming that there's a paid service to help you file for unemployment, bear in mind that it is a scam.
You may also want to be careful with phone calls or emails you receive after you file. If you are requested to pay in order to finish the filing, it will also be a scam.
You should never give out your personal information, bank account details or other type of sensitive information via email or phone!
• Phishing emails
One of the most common methods is phishing emails. In these emails you will be requested to give out personal information in order to, for example, reactivate your debit card or to finish completing applications.
Due to the increase in unemployment benefits requests, scammers tend to send emails stating that the applications are incomplete, then provide a link to finish it. Here they will steal your personal information and access to your money, so don't complete that request!
• False websites
If you aren't sure how to file for unemployment, bear in mind that you can be tricked into filing into a false website.
Many scammers create a false website to steal your personal information. So, make sure you are entering your information on the correct website.
How to avoid small-business grant scams
Getting a government grant for your small business is unlikely, so beware of scammers who try to convince you otherwise. Here are the three common tactics used to trick you.
According to the SBA (Small Business Administration), the federal government generally only provides grants to nonprofits, educational institutions, and state and local governments. So ads for government small business grants to any for-profit business that wants free money are probably scams.
These are the three things, which the government will never do, that scammers use as common tactics to lure you into believing you’re eligible for a “government” grant.
1. They tell you you’ve won a grant
Scammers sometimes contact you to notify you they’ve awarded a grant you haven’t applied for and typically charge a processing fee to “claim” the supposed grant money.
The government never does that. You have to go through the application process if you want a chance at funding and they don’t charge a processing fee for it.
2. They contact you to promote the grant
If you receive a phone call, email, or letter telling you you’re eligible for a government grant, it’s a scam. Some private funders do contact organizations with requests for grant proposals, but the government never contacts business owners to encourage grant applications.
3. They ask you for money
Scammers tend to have one thing in common: They ask you for money to apply for a grant. Though some legitimate private organizations do this, the government never charges you for an application.
Who Can Get a Government Small Business Grant?
The SBA works with organizations to provide grants to eligible businesses and mostly provides loans and other kinds of support for small businesses that do scientific research and development. So, if you run this type of business, browse Grants.gov to find legitimate government grants for your organization.
The dirty dozen: tax scams you should avoid
Compiled annually, by the IRS, the “Dirty Dozen” lists the most common scams that taxpayers may encounter anytime but that usually peak during filing season as people prepare their returns or hire someone to help with their taxes. Don’t fall prey.
Scams and frauds tend to increase during the tax season or in times of crisis, and “Americans should be vigilant to these threats during the pandemic and its aftermath”, the IRS also warns on its site.
These are the 12 types of fraud that the IRS is alerting about, where frauds related to the coronavirus and economic impact payments stand out:
IRS cautions that taxpayers should be careful of possible fake emails or websites seeking to steal personal information. You should never click on links claiming to be from the IRS, as the agency will never contact taxpayers about an invoice Tax, refund, or economic paychecks.
To find out the most common financial fraud schemes, review them from the IRS service page.
2. Fake charities
This is an ideal time for scammers to contact you to donate money through charities. Do a little investigating. If someone asks you to donate cash through a gift card or money transfer, DO NOT do so.
You can find a list of qualified and legitimate charities through a search tool on the IRS.gov page.
3. Threatening impersonator phone calls
The IRS will never call you threatening or surprising you with a demand for immediate payment for a breach of your taxes.
4. Social media scams
The information you share through social media is used by scammers to steal your identity. During the COVID-19 pandemic, criminals have created websites promoting fake products using emails, text messages, and social media posts as a trap.
5. EIP or refund theft
Through so-called "refund theft" scammers are focusing their attention on the theft of economic impact payments (stimulus checks).
In other cases, criminals file false tax returns to divert refunds to addresses or bank accounts that are not yours.
Anyone can be a victim of identity theft, so you should consult the Taxpayer Guide to Identity Theft on IRS.gov.
6. Senior fraud
Seniors should be alert to the tax scam. Older people are more likely to be victims of scammers than other segments of society.
7. Scams targeting non-English speakers
Phone scams pose a major threat to non-English speaking people, where scammers make phone calls leaving messages and instructions to call back.
It is common for scammers to want personal data such as the last four numbers of your social security number.
8. Unscrupulous return preparers
If you are about to file your tax return, it is fundamental that you properly select the professional who will help you, since you will entrust your confidential data to them.
Taxpayers should avoid so-called "phantom preparers" that expose their clients to serious filing errors, as well as possible tax fraud and the risk of losing their refunds.
9. Offer in Compromise Mills
As a taxpayer, you should beware of misleading tax debt resolution companies that try to convince you that they can settle tax debts through an Offer in Compromise (OIC). These offers are available to taxpayers who meet very specific criteria, but unscrupulous companies offer the program to candidates who do not qualify so they can charge a hefty fee to taxpayers already struggling with debt.
10. Fake Payments with Repayment Demands
Criminals always find new ways to trick taxpayers into believing their scam and this includes putting a fake refund in a taxpayer's real bank account.
The scam works like this: After the scammer files a false tax return and the taxpayer has a refund in a checking account, the scammer calls you by posing as an IRS agent, and tells the taxpayer that there is an error, so they must return the money immediately or fines, and interest will be generated. Most scammers ask taxpayers to buy gift cards for the amount of the refund.
11. Payroll and HR Scams
As a taxpayer, you should be careful of scammers who try to steal Form W-2, through the practice of phishing. The most common scams in this practice are the gift card scams and the direct deposit scam.
Direct deposits should only be sent to the Federal Office of Investigation (IC3) Internet Crime Claims Center where you can file a complaint.
This type of fraud is possible by infecting a victim's computer or device with malware.
Malware is a form of invasive software that is frequently inadvertently downloaded by the user that can track websites you visit and keystrokes to search for passwords. Criminals use anonymous messaging platforms and demand payment through virtual currencies like Bitcoins.
If you are a victim of fraud immediately contact the Treasury Inspector General's Office for Tax Administration (TIGTA) using the IRS impersonation scam report form or call 800-366-4484.