By Summer Stephan
As your District Attorney, I’m committed to increasing communication and accessibility between the DA’s Office and you, the community. One way I have been doing that is through this monthly column, where I provide consumer tips on public safety matters.
For the most part, difficult times bring people together. But for dishonest actors, uncertain times equals dollar signs and the COVID-19 pandemic is no exception. With Americans receiving up to $1,200 in stimulus funds, scammers have already began devising ways to swindle folks from their money.
As stimulus checks begin arriving by mail and direct deposit, it’s important to be on the lookout for common scam strategies. Fake social media messages, phony calls, and bogus websites are common ways swindlers try to take money from victims. By being alert and recognizing the strategies scammers use, you can keep your money in your bank account.
The IRS will not contact you:
- If you receive a phone call claiming to be from the IRS, it is a scam. The IRS will not contact you by phone and will not ask for any information in order for you to receive a stimulus check.
- You are not required to pay money in advance in order to receive your stimulus check. Anyone claiming that you need to deposit money into a bank account is trying to scam you.
- If you need to set up direct deposit for your stimulus check, communicate directly with the IRS at irs.gov/coronavirus
Beware of social media messages and phone calls:
- There is no government agency that will contact you through social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
- Any social media messages claiming to be from the IRS, or any government agency, are fake.
- The number of scam calls and messages are likely to increase during the pandemic now that scammers know many Americans will be getting a stimulus check.
- Even if a phone number looks legitimate, such as from a local area code, remain cautious as scammers can “spoof” fake numbers in order to appear more believable.
The stimulus check process is automatic:
- Scammers may send you phony links asking you to fill out a form, give out personal information, or pay an amount of money in advance. However, the stimulus check is processed automatically, so anyone asking you to volunteer any information is trying to scam you.
- Furthermore, there are no processing fees for the stimulus check. Anyone asking you to pay fees before getting paid is lying.
- You cannot pay to speed up the process. Anyone who claims you can is not being truthful.
What to do if you think you have been scammed:
- Report it as soon as possible. Reporting the crime as soon as you can will give you a greater chance of stopping the culprits.
- Report stimulus funds theft to the California Attorney General or the Federal Trade Commission.
We are all dealing with enough, the last thing we should have to worry about during this pandemic is someone stealing the assistance we so badly need. By keeping these tips in mind, you can be better prepared to identify and prevent scams.
— District Attorney Summer Stephan has dedicated more than 29 years to serving justice and victims of crime as prosecutor. She is a national leader in fighting sex crimes and human trafficking and in creating smart and fair criminal justice solutions and restorative justice practices that treat the underlying causes of addiction and mental illness and that keep young people from being incarcerated.