Summer is winding down; scammers continue to turn up the heat. Current efforts include phishing expeditions capitalizing on COVID-19 and the U.S. Census. The latest twist involves rumors concerning a second round of Economic Impact Payments (Stimulus Package Checks). The scam attempts to gather personal data by telephone call or email stating there is a problem issuing your new payment. The email displays the United States Treasury logo and the web page does the same, requesting personal information including Social Security Number, full name, address, and possibly other personal information including annual income. The phone call is a robocall noting difficulty in processing your payment. You are given two choices: press "1" to speak to an IRS employee or press "2" to be taken off the call list. Don't do either; hang up. (Plot twist: a notice that you must pay a fee in order to obtain or expedite your payment). Currently, additional payments are being considered but have not been approved by Congress. When approved, it will be reported by major media outlets. The IRS won't call or send you an email requesting information and you will never be required to pay a fee. All these efforts are fraudulent attempts at identity theft and financial fraud. Report the call to the Federal Trade Commission www.ftc.gov and the email to the Federal Bureau of Investigation www.ic3.gov.
A second scam appearing with frequency is a return of the census scam. Criminals know that the U. S. Census Bureau has fallen behind in data collection due to the pandemic and the Census Bureau is contacting residences that have not returned census forms. As with Economic Impact Payment scams, the attempt is to steal personal data but here the range of data is greater involving other family members, bank and brokerage account information, and other personal information. Many have little knowledge of recollection of the questions on census form. The questionnaire asks how many people were living in the home on April 1, 2020; their sex, age, race, ethnicity; their relationships to one another; phone number; and whether you own or rent the home. You will not be asked for your Social Security number, bank account or credit card numbers, or requested to donate to a politician, political party, or cause. Filed reports include demands for payment from persons for failure to participate in the Census. The Census Bureau does not demand payments. If you believe the person contacting you is a scammer, call (844-330-2020).
Today's final scam is the ongoing fraud committed through the sale of personal protective equipment (PPE) and COVID-19 remedies. With the resurgence of COVID-19 cases throughout the country, criminals are feeding on the desperation exhibited by many. This surge in scams has the Federal Trade commission issuing warnings, cease and desist orders, fines and criminal indictments at a record pace. Overall, more than two hundred actions have been taken by the FTC including filings against companies for false advertising and failure to deliver products as promised. Some of these vendors promote products independently while other use well known services such as Amazon Marketplace. According to the FTC, unscrupulous merchants take advantage of consumers' fears by advertising availability and quick delivery of hand sanitizer and PPE, while knowing they can't meet those promises. By law, sellers are to ship orders within the time stated in ads, (within 30 days if the ads don't give a date). If a seller can't ship within the promised time, you are entitled to a revised shipping date, with the chance to either cancel your order for a full refund or accept the new shipping date.
Protect yourself: 1) Check out the company or product by typing its name in a search engine with terms like "review," "complaint," or "scam;" 2) Review terms of sale (total purchase price, including taxes, shipping, handling). Are refund terms states? Who pays for return shipping? Is there a restocking fee? 3) Pay by credit card. That gives you protections under law.
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Elliott Greenblott is a retired educator and coordinator of the AARP Vermont Fraud Watch Network. He hosts a CATV program, Mr. Scammer, distributed by GNAT-TV in Sunderland, Vt. - www.gnat-tv.org