Tag Archives: scam alerts

Second Wave of Stimulus Checks Brings More Scams

The second wave of stimulus checks only started hitting checking accounts a few weeks ago, and the BBB  and the FTC are already warning of related scams.

According to the FTC, American taxpayers lost more than $211 million due to COVID-19 scams, with $20.9 million of that amount connected to the first round of stimulus checks.

Don’t get scammed! Protect yourself by learning all about these scams so you know when you’re being targeted.

How the scams play out

Stimulus check scams can take the form of phishing scams, in which a criminal asks victims to provide personal information to receive their check, and then instead uses that information to empty the victim’s account.

In other variants of the stimulus check scam, a victim receives an email prompting them to download an embedded link to receive their check.The link, of course, will infect the victim’s computer with malware.

In yet another stimulus check scam, a criminal impersonates an IRS official or a representative of another government office demanding a processing fee before the check can be sent.

Finally, there have been reports of taxpayers receiving checks that appear to be authentic stimulus checks, but are actually fraudulent. They deposit the check and, soon afterward, a scammer reaches out to them to inform them the check amount was incorrect and they must return some of the funds. Unfortunately, a few days later, the financial institution finds that the check is fake and it will not clear. The victim is now out the money they returned to the “IRS.”

Red flags

Unfortunately, technology has made it easy for scammers to spoof a Caller ID and to create bogus websites that look authentic. If you know what to look for, you can beat them at their game and recognize a scam before it gets past the first step.

Here are five red flags of stimulus check scams:

1. Unsolicited calls or emails

It’s best to avoid answering unsolicited calls and/or emails from unknown contacts to protect yourself from a stimulus check scam. Similarly, never click on a link in an unsolicited email or text message, as it may contain malware.

According to the BBB Scam Tracker, scammers have also been contacting people through robocalls and leaving messages about the stimulus checks and direct deposits. These calls should likewise be ignored.

2. Messages that ask you to verify or provide sensitive information

The BBB is warning of emails and text messages asking citizens to verify or supply information to receive their stimulus checks. Sometimes, the victim will receive an email instructing them to click on a link to receive their benefit payments. This, too, is a scam. The IRS will not call, text or email any taxpayer to verify their information.

3. High-pressure tactics

If a phone call or email demands immediate action on your part and uses a threat of losing your stimulus payment, you’re likely looking at a scam. There is no action you need to take to receive your check.

4. Fee solicitations

There is no processing fee or any other charge attached to the stimulus payments.

“If you do answer a call, and it’s about your stimulus payment, keep in mind that U.S. government agencies won’t ask you to pay anything up front to receive your funds. Anyone who does is a scammer,” cautions Jennifer Leach, associate director for the FTC’s division of consumer and business education.

There’s also no way to pay extra for receiving your stimulus payment earlier.

5. Inflated check amount

“We’ve seen a lot of scams involving bogus checks that look like government checks in the past year,” says Paige Schaffer, CEO of global identity and cyber protection services at Generali Global Assistance.

For the best way to protect yourself from this scam, the BBB recommends that all taxpayers receiving their stimulus payment via paper check verify that the check is authentic before depositing it in their checking account. Look up the agency or organization that allegedly sent the check to see if it really exists, and check the status of your payment to see if you actually should have received it.

Stay safe!

Beware Coronavirus Vaccine Scams

After months of confusion and fear, there is finally a light at the end of the socially distanced tunnel: the FDA has approved two coronavirus vaccines. Detailed plans to distribute from pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Moderna are already underway, with additional vaccines expected to gain FDA approval in 2021.

Unfortunately, whenever there’s big news, scammers aren’t far behind. Almost as soon as the news of the Pfizer approval hit the headlines, a robocall went out in Rochester, NY, offering a front place in line for the vaccine at the modest price of just $79.99. Of course, the call was placed by a ring of scammers and paying the requested fee will not position individuals to receive the vaccine any sooner.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) have all shared reports of additional scams in which criminals exploit the public’s interest in coronavirus vaccines to obtain personally identifiable information and money through various schemes.

Don’t get scammed! Here’s all you need to know about coronavirus vaccine scams and how to avoid them:

The vaccine distribution

It’s important to learn these facts about how the vaccine will be distributed to help avoid falling victim to a vaccine scam:

  • Initially, the vaccine will only be available in very limited quantities. There are strict protocols about who will be first in line to receive it, such as nursing home residents and health care workers. Exact guidelines vary by state, but you cannot pay or sign up to jump the line.
  • The vaccine will only be distributed through trusted resources, like doctors or health clinics. It will not be available on the internet or through an online pharmacy.
  • The vaccine will be distributed to eligible citizens at no cost. Health care providers may charge an administration fee, which will be reimbursed through insurance companies, but there will be no upfront cost for insured individuals.
  • There is no need to share personal information on the phone, such as your Social Security number or checking account details, to receive the vaccine.

Red flags

Beware of these signs of COVID-19 vaccine scams:

  • Advertisements for vaccines through social media platforms, email or phone calls from unsolicited sources.
  • Offers for early access to the vaccine — for a price.
  • Offers to undergo additional medical testing or procedures when obtaining a vaccine.
  • Marketers offering to sell and/or ship doses of a vaccine, domestically or internationally, in exchange for payment.
  • Unsolicited emails or phone calls from someone claiming to represent a medical office, insurance company or COVID-19 vaccine center requesting personal and/or medical information to determine your eligibility to participate in clinical vaccine trials or to help you obtain the vaccine.
  • Claims of FDA approval for a vaccine that cannot be verified.
  • Individuals contacting you in person, by phone or by email to tell you the government or government officials require you to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

Stay on high alert when online

Cybersecurity expert Mike Stamas was not surprised to hear of the $79.99 scam connected to Pfizer. Stamas, cofounder of GreyCastle Security in Troy, N.Y., says the pandemic serves as a reminder to the public to adhere to general online safety precautions, including using the updated version of your operating system and antivirus and antimalware software, checking that websites are secure, avoiding clicks and downloads from unsolicited sources, using two-factor authentication and being careful not to share any personal information with unverified contacts.

Be proactive

Still worried about being targeted by a coronavirus vaccine scam? You can protect yourself by staying updated with the latest vaccine developments. Check your state’s health department’s website to learn about vaccine distribution in your state and look up general vaccine information at fda.gov.


If you believe you’ve been targeted by a coronavirus vaccine scam, report the scam to the FTC at ftc.gov. You can also file a complaint with your state attorney general through consumerresources.org.

Don’t Fall Prey to a Holiday Toy Scam

He’s making his list and checking it twice. Unfortunately, though, the scammers making the list aren’t being so nice.

Scammers famously exploit high-stress times, and the pre-holiday shopping frenzy is no exception. That’s why the BBB is warning of an uptick in holiday toy scams which can be difficult to spot.

Here’s what you need to know about these scams.

How the scam plays out

Every year, there are a few must-have toys that make it onto most kids’ wish lists (this year’s most popular toys include a realistic toy dog and an animatronic baby Yoda). These choice picks become the hottest-selling items online and in stores, getting plucked off shelves in a wink. Unfortunately, for anyone who didn’t shop early enough, these toys soon become more difficult to find than toilet paper at the height of the COVID shutdown. The parents search desperately, ready to pay almost any price to make their child’s wish come true, to no avail.

Here’s where the scammer steps in. Armed with a bogus website and some crafty online tracking, the scammer targets the vulnerable shopper with ads and online messages to draw them to the scammer’s site. On the authentic-looking site, the shopper finally finds what they were looking for — the sought-after toy! Often, the toy is even deeply discounted. The purchase is completed within minutes, but sadly, the shopper’s child will not be unwrapping the much-desired toy on Christmas.

Instead, the scammer will send a cheap knockoff that doesn’t work or quickly breaks. When contacted for a refund, the scammer will either be AWOL, refuse to provide a refund or only offer to refund a small percentage of the purchase price. Sometimes, they’ll also charge an exorbitant amount of money for shipping the toy back to the company, almost making the small refund not worthwhile.

As one shopper told the BBB, she believed she’d ordered a high-quality animatronic puppy that would move and act like a real little dog.

“I wanted to get it for one of my great granddaughters,” she said. “When I received the dog in the mail, it was a small stuffed animal that you could get out of a machine at an arcade.”

Another customer paid $59.99 for a Baby Yoda toy that turned out to be nothing like it was advertised.

“It was supposed to be animated and make sounds,” the customer reports. “When I finally got it, it [was] an ugly plastic hand puppet.”

After contacting the seller for a refund, the customer was instructed to send the toy back and pay for shipping to the tune of $20 — all for a $10 refund.

Red flags

Don’t be the next victim of a holiday toy scam!

Here’s how to spot these scams:

  • The seller has a large supply of toys that are in extremely high demand.
  • The website is not secure.
  • The seller is offering a steep discount due to a “flash sale” or “last-minute” deal.
  • The seller’s website is full of spelling and/or grammatical errors.

Stay safe

Keep yourself safe when shopping online by following these tips:

  • Research before you buy. Don’t purchase an expensive item from a company you’ve never heard of before without doing some digging. Feed the company name to Google and see what the search engine has to say about it. Look up the business on the BBB website. You can also try calling the customer-service number on the website to verify the legitimacy of the company.
  • Only visit secure sites. Always look for the lock icon and the “s” after the “http” on the URL of a site to check if it’s secure.
  • Pay with credit. Paying for a purchase with a credit card will offer the buyer purchase protection and an easier time backing out of the transaction if it doesn’t turn out as expected.
  • Update your security software. For the best protection against scams, your computer should be using the most updated version of its security software

Shop safely this holiday season!

If you believe you’ve been targeted by a holiday toy scam, end all contact with the seller immediately. Alert the BBB and let your friends know about the circulating scam as well.

Secret Sister: An Illegal Pyramid Scheme

It’s baaaack! The “Secret Sister” holiday gift scam has reared its crooked head again, just in time for the holidays.

While the festive season brings lots of joy and cheer, it also brings out the grinches who are looking to steal not only your holiday bliss, but also your identity and peace of mind.

How it plays out:

What seems like a fun way to bring cheer to many within the social media-verse is actually an illegal pyramid scheme, according to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS).

Akin to the old-timey chain letters of days gone by, the Secret Sister gift exchange calls for participants to buy one gift of at least $10 value and send it to your “secret sis.” In exchange, they are promised to receive 6-36 gifts in return.

The catch is, participants need to provide not only their personal information, but provide information of members from their social network. Then, those people have to provide their friends’ information, and so on, and so on…

Once the chain is broken — which is usually the case, especially during the holidays when nobody has time to shop for and ship a present to a stranger — the original participant is out $10 and will probably never get one gift, let alone 36!

Just like any other pyramid scheme, according to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), Secret Sister counts on “the recruitment of individuals to keep the scam afloat. Once people stop participating in the gift exchange, the gift supply stops as well, and leaves hundreds of disappointed people without their promised gifts.”

The USPIS considers gift exchanges (newer scams feature exchanging bottles of wine) a form of gambling. Participants could be charged with mail fraud as well as face fines and jail time.

When the scam first appeared on Facebook in 2015, the USPIS posted, “Fraudulent pyramid schemes typically violate the Lottery Statute (Title 18, United States Code, Section 1302). They contain all three elements of a lottery: prize (expectation of monetary or other gain from participation in the pyramid); chance (the monetary return you may receive from your participation is entirely up to chance, that is, dependent on the efforts of those below you in the pyramid) and consideration (the price of your gift to join the pyramid).”

Protect yourself:

Delete it:  Even though it seems lovely to receive many gifts from all over the globe, it could cost you your identity and your freedom. Disregard any social media post, email or letter asking to be a Secret Sister.

Report it: Let the social media platform you’re using know about the circulating scheme by clicking on “report post.”

Protect it: Restoring your identity is no joke! Keep your private information to yourself.

Question it: Some of these fraudsters actually have the gall to claim these schemes are not only legal, but are endorsed by the U.S. government. Nothing could be further from the truth! Pyramid schemes are illegal and would never be promoted by any government agency.

Don’t get on the naughty list this holiday season. Steer clear of the Secret Sister or any other social media gift exchange, keep your money and your identity safe, and jingle all the way to a happy holiday!


Don’t forget to check the latest scam alerts. Contact the FTC for help if you’re targeted by a scammer.