Americans should be wary of fraud as Washington lawmakers debate the contours of another round of potential financial relief, according to an alert issued Tuesday by the Federal Trade Commission.
Consumers should be cautious of solicitations asking them to pay for access to certain financial assistance, like stimulus checks and job opportunities, according to the federal agency. Fraudsters may also seek upfront payment for mortgage help, it warned.
Americans have lost about $106 million to fraud related to Covid-19 this year, according to the FTC. Some of that fraud was connected to prior round of coronavirus relief efforts.
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“A second stimulus package has not yet been finalized by Congress,” according to a blog post authored by Jennifer Leach, the agency’s associate director of the division of consumer and business education. “While there’s a lot we don’t know, we DO know a few things about what scammers do when this kind of uncertainty is in the headlines,” the FTC said.
Lawmakers have been locked in negotiations over more relief measures for two weeks, as the U.S. remains in the throes of a coronavirus-induced economic downturn and federal policies like expanded unemployment benefits and an eviction moratorium expired at the end of July.
Meanwhile, President Trump signed four executive orders on Saturday to offer aid in the areas of unemployment, student loans, payroll taxes and evictions, though some experts caution the measures may be limited in their effectiveness.
Here is some of the advice offered by the FTC to combat potential fraud tied to relief efforts:
More stimulus checks aren’t a given. Congress would need to pass legislation to create another round.
Nobody will call to ask for your Social Security, bank account or credit card number to access your payment. Like the first round, consumers can expect to get money direct deposited, or via a debit card or check mailed to the address used for their taxes. Don’t pay to get a stimulus check and keep your private information to yourself.
It’s illegal for companies to charge before they help you with your mortgage. If you’re behind on mortgage payments, talk with your mortgage servicer right away to determine your options.
Consumers struggling with mortgage or rent should consider consulting a legal services organization if they feel like things are taking a hard turn south toward foreclosure or eviction.