- Coronavirus fraud reporting resources
- National Center for Disaster Fraud
- I Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3)
- Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
- US Postal Inspection Service
- Avoiding scams | Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
- COVID-19 vaccine scams
- COVID-19 cure, air filters, and testing scams
- Fake coronavirus-related charity scams
- “Person in need” scams
- Scams targeting Social Security benefits
- COVID-19 government imposter scams
- Unemployment benefits scams
Coronavirus fraud reporting resources
As CPAs and their clients work through the massive business changes brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, they also need to be extra vigilant for fraud.
While the virus continues to spread across the United States, it has been accompanied by a growing number and variety of fraud schemes, according to U.S. Attorney William M. McSwain of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
“Over the past few weeks, there has been a significant number of frauds committed across the country related to the coronavirus pandemic,” McSwain said Friday in a news release.
Scammers are taking advantage of the pandemic to steal money and private information from people and businesses in schemes such as identity theft, health care fraud, fake charities, and securities fraud, according to federal officials.
Phishing scams have also been reported, where fraudsters pose as representatives from large institutions, such as the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to trick victims into downloading malware or providing personally identifying and financial information.
In a March 16 letter to all U.S. attorneys, Attorney General William Barr noted the importance of detecting, deterring, and punishing this type of wrongdoing.
“The pandemic is dangerous enough without wrongdoers seeking to profit from public panic, and this sort of conduct cannot be tolerated,” Barr wrote.
Accountants and other members of the public should be on the lookout for these scams and report them to the proper agencies. One way to help identify scams is to check the AICPA Forensic and Valuation Services Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resource Center, and you can use the following resources if you encounter a potential scam or fraud involving the coronavirus.
National Center for Disaster Fraud
You can report any coronavirus-related complaints to the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud hotline at 1-866-720-5721 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Hotline staff will share your complaint with the relevant law enforcement officials, who will review the information.
The IRS is warning about a surge of COVID-19–related calls and email phishing attempts that can lead to tax-related fraud and identity theft.
Individuals who receive unsolicited emails, text messages, or social media messages that attempt to gather taxpayer information and appear to be from the IRS should forward the message to email@example.com.
The IRS also maintains a webpage with information on phishing and online scams.
You can submit tips about coronavirus scams using the SEC’s complaint form. Complaints may include situations involving:
- Fraudulent or unregistered offer or sale of securities, including things such as:
- Ponzi schemes.
- Pyramid schemes.
- High-yield investment programs.
- Theft or misappropriation of funds or securities.
- Manipulation of a security’s price or volume.
- Insider trading.
- False or misleading statements about a company, including false or misleading SEC reports or financial statements.
- Failure to file required reports with the SEC.
- Bribery of, or improper payments to, foreign officials.
- Fraudulent conduct associated with municipal securities transactions or public pension plans.
If you want to submit information about possible fraud, the SEC asks that you include the following:
- Your full name and contact information, including mail and email addresses, and telephone numbers. Or you can submit your tip anonymously.
- Contact information for any individual or company you mention in the tip or complaint, including their full name, mail and email addresses, and telephone numbers.
- A detailed description of the events or circumstances giving rise to your complaint — including who was involved in the conduct and how, why, and when the conduct occurred.
- Any relevant documentation.
I Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3)
If you know of a potential internet scam, the I’s Internet Crime Complaint Center accepts online complaints. Internet crimes include any illegal activity involving websites, chat rooms, emails, etc.
to communicate false or fraudulent representations to consumers.
The crimes may include advance-fee schemes, nondelivery of goods or services, computer hacking, or employment/business opportunity schemes, according to the I.
If you file a complaint, you will be asked to provide the following information:
- Victim’s name, address, telephone number, and email.
- Financial transaction information (e.g., account information, transaction date and amount, and who received the money).
- Subject’s name, address, telephone number, email, website, and IP address.
- Specific details on how the person was victimized.
- Email header(s).
- Any other relevant information you believe is necessary to support the complaint.
You should keep any evidence related to the complaint, including:
- Canceled checks.
- Credit card receipts.
- Money order receipts.
- Certified or other mail receipts.
- Wire receipts.
- Virtual currency receipts.
- Prepaid card receipts.
- Envelopes (if you received items via FedEx, UPS, or U.S. Mail).
- Pamphlets or brochures.
- Phone bills.
- Printed or preferably electronic copies of emails (if printed, include full email header information).
- Printed or preferably electronic copies of webpages.
- Hard-drive images.
- Network, host system, and/or security appliance logs.
- Copies of malware.
- Chat transcripts and/or telephone logs.
If you have information about a potential scam or attempted fraud involving the coronavirus, you can report it to the I’s online tips.
Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
The FTC takes consumer complaints about the coronavirus and shares them with local, state, federal, and foreign law enforcement partners. Tips can be submitted using an online form.
US Postal Inspection Service
If you suspect mail fraud involving the coronavirus, visit the U.S. Postal Service’s website and fill out an online form. It will ask for your information and what you received in the mail.
— Kelly Hinchcliffe is a freelance writer based in North Carolina. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Drew Adamek, a JofA senior editor, at Andrew.Adamek@aicpa-cima.com.
Avoiding scams | Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
Help spread the word and keep those you care about from falling for a scam, regardless of their age or health status. If you spot a scam, report it to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint .
COVID-19 vaccine scams
As the COVID-19 vaccine is rolled out throughout the country, it’s important to be on the lookout for scams. Beware of scams offering early access to vaccines for a fee.
Don't share your personal or financial information if someone calls, texts, or emails you promising to get you the vaccine for a fee. Also, keep in mind that Medicare covers the cost of the COVID-19 vaccine.
COVID-19 vaccines are also free to others throughout the country, although providers may charge an administration fee.
What to do: For the latest vaccine updates, check with the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) .
COVID-19 cure, air filters, and testing scams
The FTC warned about an increasing number of scams related to test kits, cures or treatments, and air filter systems designed to remove COVID-19 from the air in your home. If you receive a phone call, email, text message, or letter with claims to sell you any of these items–it’s a scam.
What to do: Testing is available through local and state governments or through your medical providers.
Fake coronavirus-related charity scams
A charity scam is when a thief poses as a real charity or makes up the name of a charity that sounds real to get money from you. Be careful about any charity calling you asking for donations. And be wary if you get a call following up on a donation pledge that you don’t remember making–it could be a scam.
What to do: If you are able to help financially, visit the website of the organization of your choice to make sure your money is going to the right place.
“Person in need” scams
Scammers could use the circumstances of the coronavirus to pose as a grandchild, relative or friend who claims to be ill, stranded in another state or foreign country, or otherwise in trouble, and ask you to send money. They may ask you to send cash by mail or buy gift cards. These scammers often beg you keep it a secret and act fast before you ask questions.
What to do: Don’t panic! Take a deep breath and get the facts. Hang up and call your grandchild or friend’s phone number to see if the story checks out. You could also call a different friend or relative. Don’t send money unless you’re sure it’s the real person who contacted you.
Scams targeting Social Security benefits
While local Social Security Administration (SSA) offices are closed to the public due to COVID-19 concerns, SSA will not suspend or decrease Social Security benefit payments or Supplemental Security Income payments due to the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Scammers may mislead people into believing they need to provide personal information or pay by gift card, wire transfer, internet currency, or by mailing cash to maintain regular benefit payments during this period.
Any communication that says SSA will suspend or decrease your benefits due to COVID-19 is a scam, whether you receive it by letter, text, email, or phone call.
What to do: Report Social Security scams to the SSA Inspector General online at oig.ssa.gov .
COVID-19 government imposter scams
Many of us are paying close attention to the guidance from federal, state, and local governments during this COVID-19 health emergency. Unfortunately, scammers are also paying attention. Some are even pretending to be affiliated with the government–just to scam you money.
What to do:
- Know that the government will never call, text, or contact you on social media saying you owe money, or to offer help getting your Economic Impact Payment (EIP) faster. If you get a message from someone claiming to be from a government agency through social media, it’s a scam. Report it to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint . If you are eligible and haven’t yet gotten your Economic Impact Payment, visit irs.gov and follow the guidance. Watch this CFPB video to learn more about your EIP. And read the FTC’s information on spotting scams related to the EIP.
- Visit government websites directly for trustworthy information. Don’t click on links in an email or text message. Scammers often send fake links to websites that look they’re from the government. Instead of clicking on links in messages, open up a new window and search for the name of the government agency. And visit coronavirus.gov for the most up-to-date information on the pandemic.
- Say “NO” to anyone claiming to be from a government agency asking for cash, gift cards, wire transfer, cryptocurrency, or personal and financial information, whether they contact you by phone, texts email, or by showing up in person. Don’t share your Social Security, Medicare ID, driver’s license, bank account, or credit card numbers.
Unemployment benefits scams
Scammers may try to use your personal information to claim unemployment benefits. Some people have reported receiving prepaid cards in the mail with unemployment benefits that they didn’t apply for.
Others have reported suspicious transactions and deposits in their bank accounts involving unemployment benefits. Once you receive the funds, a scammer may contact you, pretend to be from the government, and tell you the benefits were deposited by mistake.
They will then ask you to send them the money .
What to do: If you receive an unexpected prepaid card for unemployment benefits or see an unexpected deposit from your state in your bank account, report it right away to your state unemployment insurance office and your bank or credit union. If you believe you have been the victim of identity theft, report the incident to your local police and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) .