Millions of Americans are waiting for the arrival of a $1,400 stimulus payment from President Joe Biden’s coronavirus relief package that was passed last month. But, federal and state officials have warned that with the surge in federal relief comes a quiet wave of scammers trying to steal it.
Americans have already lost more than $300 million in stimulus scams from the first and second rounds of aid, according to the Federal Trade Commission, a figure that’s likely to be larger, as some people didn’t file a report to the commission.
“These scams around COVID stimulus checks, coronavirus, are being undertaken by hackers and scammers in a more sophisticated way because they have easy, cheap access to more of our personal information,” Rob Shavell, a data privacy security expert, told NBC’s Charlotte, NC affiliate WCNC.
Now, how are scammers getting the stimulus money?
The FTC says it’s very common for scammers to use people’s personal information to get access to federal aid.
Shavell also pointed out that scammers can easily obtain a person’s date of birth, workplace, family history, past addresses, email, and phone, just by purchasing the data from a data broker for a small fee. With this type of information, scammers can convince government agency workers that they are, in fact, legitimate, enabling them to steal the stimulus payment.
Other methods include scammers making unsolicited phone calls, as well as sending emails, texts, or social media messages, where scammers claim to be the Internal Revenue Service or another government agency and ask for credit card information. The IRS and Treasury Department, however, never ask people for that information.
Scammers have also pressured recipients into thinking that a purchase is required to receive a direct payment, and have also even used high-pressure tactics, offered expedited delivery of the payment for a fee, and threatened loss of the money if there isn’t immediate action.
These tactics have made state-level officials warn residents to carefully monitor suspicious activity and forms of digital interaction, as they await the third stimulus check.
“Be smart,” Florida attorney general Ashley Moody said last month. “Seek out trusted sources of information about when your payment will be received and never respond to solicitations asking you to provide personal information or payment to receive a stimulus check.”
Louisiana’s attorney general noted that there have been reports of scammers stealing checks and prepaid debit cards from people’s mailboxes.
“We have had reports of stimulus checks that are being stolen out of mailboxes,” Attorney General Jeff Landry said.
“Those out there that are thinking about maybe going through their neighborhoods and stealing stimulus checks, if they wake up and the federal government is knocking on their door with some handcuffs, don’t blame us,” Landry added.
Those who haven’t seen their third stimulus payment are advised to visit the IRS’ Get My payment site to see the status of their relief.
Rachel Bucchino is a reporter at the National Interest. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report, and The Hill.