NEW YORK, UNITED STATES – 2020/05/17: US Senator Chuck Schumer reveals huge increase in coronavirus health and treatment scams while displaying copy of Federal Trade Commission (FTC) letter to one of the scammers at 780 3rd Avenue. Senator Schumer demanded to levy heavy fines on those reckless companies. (Photo by Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Scammers want your coronavirus stimulus checks — and the newest targets are the young and the old.
The federal government has issued one-time payments to tens of millions of Americans since April to provide financial relief amid the coronavirus pandemic.
College students and nursing home residents are emerging as the latest victims of thieves who want to steal those funds.
Emerging scams, which build on several others targeting aid like unemployment benefits and small business loans, come as Congress is weighing another round of financial assistance for cash-strapped Americans.
Consumers have lost more than $40 million to coronavirus-related fraud, according to Federal Trade Commission data as of Tuesday. The typical American lost about $460.
The CARES Act, the $2.2 trillion federal legislation enacted in March, authorized the IRS to send stimulus payments to roughly 160 million taxpayers.
Individuals are eligible for up to $1,200 and married couples up to $2,400, plus $500 for each eligible dependent.
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Fraudsters posing as officials from university financial departments have begun sending e-mails to students urging them to view a message about their Covid-19 economic stimulus checks, according to a warning issued by the Federal Trade Commission on Wednesday.
It’s a “phishing” scam that asks students to click a link requiring their university login. Scammers may then use that information — such as a username, password or other personal information — for nefarious means and potentially download malware onto their device, the FTC said.
Further, some nursing homes and assisted living facilities have been trying to take stimulus payments intended for seniors on Medicaid, the FTC warned May 15.
Culprits are trying to get residents to sign over stimulus funds to the facility, claiming they’re entitled to the payments because the individual is on Medicaid, the FTC said.
However, this isn’t allowed under federal law — the stimulus payments are technically a “tax credit,” per the Cares Act.
Tax credits don’t count as resources for federal benefit programs like Medicaid — meaning the government can’t seize them, and nor can nursing homes or assisted living facilities, the FTC said.
Seniors who have had money taken should contact their state attorney general, according to the FTC.
“With millions of dollars of payments in various forms issued by the IRS to taxpayers across the country, [the government] reminds all taxpayers to exercise caution to avoid becoming victimized by thieves and scammers looking to take their [economic impact payments],” J. Russell George, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, warned May 14.
The federal government has so far issued roughly 152 million stimulus payments worth $258 billion.
Protect yourself from stimulus scams
George issued the following guidance to protect stimulus payments:
- Always verify the web address, or URL, of websites to ensure authenticity and always manually type them into your web browser.
- Don’t use any other website or service that claims to be able to process your economic impact payment or act as an intermediary between you and the IRS.
- Don’t share your personal information with anyone, whether claiming to be from the IRS or another business or agency offering to assist you with your stimulus payment. Payments will come directly from the Treasury Department.
- Don’t open attachments or click on any links within e-mails from senders you don’t recognize.
- Don’t accept or deposit a stimulus check that someone else offers you other than one received directly from the Treasury Department through the mail.