As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, many government agencies are providing money and other support to help with pandemic related hardships. Scammers, always ready to take advantage of people in a crisis, have been stepping in with a new con. Watch out for con artists claiming to “help” you get free government aid.
How the Scam Works
A website search, social media ad, or even an unwitting friend or family member directs you to a website of a new service claiming to help you get free money from government aid programs.
These “consultants” say they can get you aid money from unadvertised government programs or programs where your application was previously denied. For example, scammers may assert that they can get you a personal loan from the U.S. Small Business Association, a government agency specifically for businesses.
To get started, all you have to do is fill out some paperwork. This typically requires sharing sensitive, personal information, such as your full name, home address, and government ID numbers. Next, the “consultant” will ask you for an upfront payment for their services. You may also be required to pay a portion of the government aid funds you receive directly to the company, which they will likely ask for up front.
Most of the time, these “consultants” don’t really have any special information on government aid programs. Instead, they are simply hoping to get your personal information and an initial payment. Once you’ve paid, the consultant will disappear and the company will become unreachable. Your money may be lost for good and your personal information could be compromised, putting you at risk for identity theft.
How to Protect Yourself from These Scams
- Research government aid programs through official channels. Visit websites that end in .gov or .ca for official information about government aid programs. Remember, government agencies don’t typically call, text, or send social media direct message without you opting into these channels.
- Never give your personal information to strangers. Even if their story is convincing, it’s never wise to share your personal information with an individual or organization you hardly know.
- Get to know a company before doing business with them. Before handing over money or your personal information, research a company and its claims. Ask yourself: Does this company have a good reputation? Are they BBB accredited and if so, what is their business rating? Does this government aid program actually exist? If a company representative gets defensive or aggressive when you ask questions to verify their claims, don’t do business with that company.
- Beware of promises that sound too good to be true. Scammers are experts at pitching services and products that will miraculously solve all of your problems, be skeptical. Double check their claims before you agree to pay for their services or share your personal details.
For More Information
To learn more about common COVID-19 scams and how to avoid them, visit the BBB tips on COVID-19 (coronavirus) webpage.
If you’ve been approached by scammers who claimed to be financial aid consultants, report your experience on the BBB.org/ScamTracker. Your report will help other consumers to stay alert and avoid falling prey to scammers.