ACCC Warns Consumers on COVID-19 Scams
Economic Fallout from Global Pandemic Makes Americans More Vulnerable
American Consumer Credit Counseling is advising clients on how to avoid getting taken
(Boston, MA) – June 24, 2020 – American Consumer Credit Counseling warned today that consumers are at increased risk of being scammed as economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic creates an environment ripe for financial predators.
Federal stimulus check rip-offs, false small business loan programs, and bogus treatments for COVID-19 are just some of the schemes that predators are using to attack consumers’ finances at a time when so many Americans are struggling.
“The number of ways people are being targeted by one COVID-19 related scam or another is alarming,” said Steve Trumble, President and CEO of American Consumer Credit Counseling. “Our economy has taken a record hit from the pandemic, and millions of American households are already hurting financially from lost income, layoffs, business shutdowns and other factors.”
The U.S. unemployment rate increased sharply from 3.6 percent in January to 13.3 percent in May as the financial impact from COVID-19 sent shock waves through the American economy. Other metrics such as public transit and airline ridership continue to be dismal, though there are faint signs of improvement and renewed activity in areas such as new mortgage applications and the recovering stock market.
But ACCC is coaching its clients on how to avoid financial scams as more and more COVID-19 rip-offs flood the market through social media and other digital promotions, as well as direct email marketing and mobile phone and texting campaigns.
Scams to be on the lookout for include:
- Phony Social Security communications
The Social Security Administration is not suspending or decreasing Social Security benefit payments or Supplemental Security Income payments due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, but scammers are using that fear to prey on certain consumers. The scam attempts to convince a target consumer that they must make a payment or turn over personal data to maintain benefits. “Don’t fall for it,” Trumble says. “The Social Security Administration doesn’t call you unannounced or text. Ever.”
- Phony people in need
Major disasters and disruptive world events often increase the occurrence of scams built around imaginary people in need. They might even pose as a distant relative or friend of a friend. The giveaway is always the same: an urgent request for money and questionable bank transaction instructions – often with a plea for secrecy. “The actual need worldwide for genuine emergency assistance is astronomical,” Trumble says. “The Red Cross, Salvation Army, United Way and many local and regional organizations are safe and very impactful ways to help real people.”
- Bogus COVID-19 cures, treatments and testing
The Federal Trade Commission has said there is an increase in scams preying on Americans looking for convenient COVID-19 tests and miracle cures or treatments. Consider all such promotions as bogus or high risk for a scam. “No decision about your healthcare – especially concerning COVID-19 – should be made based on a marketing ploy,” Trumble says. “Contact your primary healthcare provider as a first step.”
- Stimulus check rip-offs
Don’t fall for email offers, phone calls, or texts promising expedited payment of federal stimulus funds. It’s a scam. Go to IRS.gov to track the status of your relief payment and to understand the criteria for qualifying.
- Small business loan scam sites
The federal Payroll Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan processes have been challenging for many business owners to manage. Avoid web sites promising expedited action in exchange for up-front fees or down payments. “This is pretty straightforward. If it is not your commercial or retail bank that is working with you to access Small Business Administration funds, walk away,” Trumble says. “Consult SBA.gov for guidance and information, and then only work with an accredited FDIC-insured bank on the application process.”
Trumble says ACCC counselors are advising clients to also consult the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau web site for guidance and updated alerts on possible COVID-19 scams. The elevated risk has emerged as many Americans struggle to stay afloat financially as a result of the pandemic’s economic wrath.
A March survey by American Consumer Credit Counseling found that nearly 80 percent of all American consumers have been impacted financially by the COVID-19 crisis. The ACCC Financial Health Index demonstrated that consumers would “require budget counseling, assistance from creditors through forbearance and payment deferral, and flexibility from mortgage banks and landlords on housing payments.”
About American Consumer Credit Counseling
American Consumer Credit Counseling (ACCC) is a nonprofit credit counseling 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to empowering consumers to achieve financial management through credit counseling, debt management, bankruptcy counseling, housing counseling, student loan counseling, and financial education concerning debt solutions. To help consumers reach their goal of debt relief, ACCC provides a range of free consumer personal finance resources on a variety of topics including budgeting, credit and debt management, student loan assistance, youth and money, homeownership, identity theft, senior living, and retirement. Consumers can use ACCC’s worksheets, videos, calculators, and blog articles to make the best possible decisions regarding their financial future. ACCC holds an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau and is a member of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling® (NFCC®). For more information or to access free financial education resources, log on to ConsumerCredit.com or visit http://www.consumercredit.com/financial-education.aspx