Scammers pose as government agency offering COVID-19 grant to gather personal information
The promise of free money is always alluring. But it’s almost always too good to be true. Take for instance a recent scam reported to the Iowa Attorney General’s office in which consumers receive an email from the Internal Revenue Service announcing they have been approved for a grant as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Surprise: This is a scam.
As with similar frauds, those behind this ploy are attempting to gather your personal information under the guise of providing you with financial help.
In this most recent scam, the consumer reported receiving an unsolicited email from the IRS. The email (pictured below) indicates the woman had been approved for a $782 grant.
The funds were reportedly provided through an “aid fund related to the ongoing COVID-19 virus. That’s why we want to help you through these difficult times.”
To process the grant payment, the sender of the email notes the recipient must “verify your complete data.” This is followed by a link directing the victim to fill out a form with their personal information, including Social Security Number, address, phone number and more.
Like most scams, there are several red flags included in this purported IRS message. Here’s what you should look for:
- The IRS will NEVER call, email or text you about a grant, refund or debt owed.
- The email includes several grammatical errors.
- The URL populated to “verify” information is “.com.” The IRS website uses a “.gov” address.
This is just one example of the phony government grant scam. In other instances, con artists will advertise free grants in classified advertisings, call you with news that you won a grant, reach out to you through social media, or send official-looking mailings.
Remember that believing the offer of “money for nothing” will likely land you with less funds in your pockets in the end.
To avoid becoming the victim of a scam, remember T.I.P.:
Threat – Scammers will often introduce a threat that comes out of the blue. This threat is meant to do one thing: raise your emotions.
Immediacy – Scammers will impart a sense of urgency on victims. You must do something now, and if you don’t, there will be consequences.
Payment – Scammers will always ask for money. This can be requested in many ways, including in cash, as a wire transfer, or a gift card.
WHAT YOU SHOULD DO
If you receive a message or phone call from someone claiming to be with the IRS, delete it or hang up. If you want to take an extra step to ensure you really aren’t receiving a grant or owe federal back taxes or penalties, call the IRS directly to verify.
How to Report an IRS Scam
- Victims who lost money through an IRS scam should report the loss to local law enforcement.
- Victims who were not scammed but who wish to report it can contact the U.S. Federal Trade Commission through the FTC Complaint Assistant at ftccomplaintassistant.gov.
- Those who want to verify whether they owe federal taxes or penalties should contact the IRS directly. The IRS telephone assistance number is 1-800-829-1040.
- Those who were not scammed but who wish to report being contacted by an IRS impersonator can report it to the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Taxpayer Administration (TIGTA): treasury.gov/tigtaor, toll-free, at 1-800-366-4484.
If you believe you’ve been scammed or suspect a charity is acting fraudulently, contact your local law enforcement agency or 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).