Be alert for COVID stimulus, vaccine scams
Calls, emails could be attempts to steal your money and information
Good news is on the way in the form of COVID relief checks and vaccines. But consumers should not let their guard down, Attorney General Tom Miller warns.
“Scammers follow the headlines, and they’ll take advantage of our excitement, confusion, and other emotions,” Miller said.
Some Americans should receive a second round of stimulus money in early January after Congress passed a new coronavirus relief package. The legislation also includes unemployment benefits, eviction ban, rental assistance and other help. As the Attorney General’s Office saw last year, some of the details can cause confusion and lead to fraud and other problems.
The Federal Trade Commission reminds Americans to keep in mind the following:
- No government agency will ask you to pay anything up front to get your stimulus check. “Anyone who does is a scammer,” the FTC says.
- The government also won’t call, text, email, or contact you on social media to ask for your Social Security, bank account, or credit card number.
- You cannot get your money earlier or faster through third parties. “Anyone who says they can hook you up now (or soon) is both lying and a scammer,” the FTC says.
The money could arrive via direct deposit, a paper check, or an Economic Impact Payment debit cards.
If you receive an EIP card, don’t throw it away! The cards created much confusion in May, when many consumers believed their card to be fraudulent or a solicitation and discarded it. They later had difficulty getting a new card without the card number and had other problems.
The Iowa Attorney General’s Office reached out to the U.S. Treasury about problems with the cards, including rules on fees and access. Treasury officials have since resolved some of the problems.
Reminder: Nursing home residents on Medicaid can receive stimulus payments. Stimulus checks will not be counted as income and will not disqualify Medicaid beneficiaries from nursing home care. However, if the stimulus money is not spent within 12 months, it may be counted as an asset and could affect future eligibility. All Medicaid recipients must notify the Iowa Department of Human Services when they receive a stimulus payment. Be aware that a nursing home cannot take claim stimulus money. If you have problems, call the long-term care ombudsman.
Several scams have already been reported involving COVID vaccines. In December, Aging Resources of Central Iowa reported that a scammer was contacting Iowans offering “to sell a ticket of some kind to you or an older adult guaranteeing a place on a waiting list for the COVID-19 vaccine.”
The FBI warns about similar scams, as well as other “potential indicators of fraudulent activity”:
- 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 of a deposit or fee;
- unsolicited emails, telephone calls, or personal contact from someone claiming to be from a medical office, insurance company, or COVID-19 vaccine center requesting personal and/or medical information to determine recipients’ eligibility to participate in clinical vaccine trials or obtain the vaccine;
- claims of FDA approval for a vaccine that cannot be verified
- advertisements for vaccines through social media platforms, email, telephone calls, online, or from unsolicited/unknown sources;
- 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.
In addition, beware of companies offering products, treatments, or medicines to prevent the virus. Check with your health care provider before paying for or receiving any COVID-19-related treatment.
How to get help
If you believe you have been the victim of a COVID-19 fraud, report it to the FBI (ic3.gov, tips.fbi.gov, or 1-800-CALL-FBI) or Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (tips.hhs.gov or 1-800-HHS-TIPS).
You can also ,contact the Iowa Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division. To file a complaint, go here or call 515-281-5926 (in Des Moines area) or 888-777-4590 (outside the metro area).
For more tips, follow the Iowa Attorney General on Facebook and Twitter at @AGIowa.