A blend of chaos and confusion can hit families at any turn during the coronavirus pandemic. And con artists are more than happy to take advantage of you when much of life is not business as usual.
Did I pay the last cellphone bill? Is it possible that maybe I forgot to cash a check a few years ago? What ever happened to my Economic Impact Payment?
Anything might catch you off guard when uncertainties surround the back-to-school season, as well as ongoing cutbacks or changes at your job. Scammers are crossing their fingers that you’ll be so distracted that you act just a bit too quickly.
So we’re receiving all sorts of phone calls, emails, links to fake websites and the like from con artists.
They say you overlooked an important bill
Consumers report getting phishing texts this summer telling them that their bill hasn’t been paid yet for their internet or cell service. In some cases, the texts say their AT&T payment has been put on hold.
My brother-in-law Larry received a text in late July that implied that it was from AT&T and that somehow there was an “unsuccessful payment.” But wisely, instead of calling the number listed on that text, he checked his bank account first and saw that, of course, his payment went through.
“If you get a suspicious text, it’s a red flag,” said Teresa Mask, a spokesperson for AT&T. “We recommend consumers do not reply.”
AT&T — like the Internal Revenue Service and others — will not send a text or email to ask you to supply your Social Security number, personal account information or credit card number.
AT&T’s website also highlights a few other phony texts, such as: “I am Tom Smith from the FBI. As part of an ongoing drug trafficking investigation, we intercepted an envelope en route to your home address containing a large sum of money and account information that we believe belongs to you. We believe you could be involved in a serious crime, but you could save your own skin.”
AT&T says if you receive a suspicious AT&T-related text message, alert AT&T by forwarding it to 7726 and 7726 spells SPAM.
Phony text messages may try to impersonate your bank, credit union, utility company and a variety of government agencies, too.
Or they’ve found your missing money
Consumers have reported getting texts this summer that alert them to windfalls or unclaimed assets. At a time when many people are out of work, scammers can see the appeal of offering fast cash.
“Our records show 877.88 may be owed to you,” one such text read.
The phony texts might claim that they’re from something called the “Unclaimed Property Administration or UPA.”
The Michigan Department of Treasury warned consumers in July of a rash of such texts. And consumers were told to “ignore and delete text messages coming from an unknown source that boasts about reuniting individuals with their unclaimed property.”
Don’t click on a link to claim any so-called unclaimed property.
Various states have websites for unclaimed property where you can search online and not pay any fee to find what’s owed to you.
In Michigan, individuals can conduct a free search for unclaimed property at the Michigan Unclaimed Property website www.michigan.gov/unclaimedproperty. You can enter your name and zip code to see if Treasury has anything that might be yours. The site does not list how much money you might be owed.
Or you can call the Michigan office at 517-636-5320 between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. Mondays through Friday.
Lost cash can include old bank accounts, uncashed checks, and the like.
In the last five years, Michigan notes that more than $400 million has been paid to claimants.
Sometimes, out-of-state firms, often based in the state of Utah, may send letters and claim to specialize in locating “owners of old financial receivables and assisting such owners in recovery.” But you’re often looking at handing over a percentage of your payout. And why should you do that?
That stimulus payment website? It’s fake
Be warned that scammers have created copies of the official IRS “Get My Payment” site and have updated their search engine terms so that people conducting Google searches for information find these fake sites, according to a report by SocialCatfish.com.
“Once a person finds their site, they think it’s the official IRS website and will enter their information,” the group warned.
“The scammers can then install malware on their devices and steal their information to obtain the victim’s stimulus check, or steal their bank account information.”
And there’s another stimulus scam out there — the fake check.
Some scammers crafted up their own stimulus check programs of sorts.
Some scammers may try to mail the taxpayer a bogus check, according to an IRS alert, perhaps in an odd amount, then tell the taxpayer to call a number or verify information online in order to cash it.
You might get a letter or even a pamphlet on your car.
A Florida man received an official-looking check for $3,000 but it was really a fake check connected to a promotion involving a car lot, according to a FoxNews.com report.
The IRS is not going to call you or ask for your bank account information over the phone. You can go to IRS.gov for any online tools relating to the stimulus program.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Susan Tompor is the personal finance columnist for the Detroit Free Press. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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