Avoid COVID-19 Scams

Scammers are using the Small Business Administration (SBA) and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) names to con small businesses and individuals during the COVID-19 crisis. Montanans should be on the lookout for a surge of calls and email phishing attempts about the Coronavirus.

  • Emails from government agencies will always end in .gov.
  • Do not release any private information (social security number, date of birth, etc.) or banking information in response to an unsolicited caller, letter, email, or text.
  • There is no cost to apply for a COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan and the SBA/IRS will never ask you to provide a credit card or private information 

How might scammers exploit the pandemic to steal Montanans’ recovery payments?   

The Treasury Department will start sending direct payments in April. I’m asking all Montanans to do their part and help make sure this money gets in the right hands. Check in with older family members, neighbors and friends.

Tell them these three things:

  • First, the real IRS will not call you on the telephone to find out where to send your recovery payment.
  • Second, the IRS will not send emails to taxpayers.
  • Third, the IRS will not offer early check delivery for a fee. Keep in mind that imposters will try any trick in the book to get their hands on your money and personal information. Do not click on an emailed link that says it’s from the IRS. Forward suspicious emails to phishing@irs.gov.

The IRS is not going to call, email, text or use social media to find out personal or financial information to send recovery payments. Montanans should visit IRS.gov for more information or contact my office with questions or concerns. For those who suspect they are victims of a coronavirus-related scam, report the issue to the Treasury IG’s website at (https://www.treasury.gov/tigta/contact_report_covid.shtml). 

The Social Security Administration (SSA) also is warning older citizens to be on alert for the imposter ruse targeting recovery payments. Callers may say they are from Social Security and offer a benefit increase due to COVID-19.

Montanans need to know that Social Security will not offer a benefit increase in exchange for your recovery payment. Scam artists may say there’s a problem with delivery of a coronavirus check and pressure seniors to pay a fee with cash, retail gift cards, pre-paid debit cards or wire transfer to receive their recovery payment. Don’t let a loved one fall into this trap. Report fraud to the Social Security inspector general online at https://secure.ssa.gov/ipff/home.

The SSA also issued an advisory that it will not suspend or discontinue benefits when local offices are closed due to the pandemic. Disregard letters asking Social Security recipients to call back and provide personal information about their benefits or recovery payments. Spread the word with your neighbors to help stop these scams.  

What coronavirus-related scams are targeting health care providers? 

The global shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) is a feeding ground for criminal enterprise and counterfeit operations to take advantage of the pandemic for profit. The medical community should be wary of counterfeit pharmaceutical products and sanitary products.

A global operation called Operation Pangea targets the trafficking of counterfeit medicines. Europol, the law enforcement arm of the European Union, reported that more than 34,000 counterfeit surgical masks were seized March 3-10, 2020, exposing how criminal opportunists are taking advantage of the pandemic and putting public health at risk.

The FBI is asking health care administrators to exercise due diligence when dealing with vendors, especially with ones they’ve never worked with in the past. Suspicious activity may include last minute price changes, unusual payment terms and last-minute excuses for delayed shipments. Report suspicious activity or fraud allegations regarding COVID-19 scams to the FBI tip line at tips.fbi.gov. Submit cyber scams and counterfeit product allegations to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov.