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FBI financial crime warning: “use extreme caution in online communication” during COVID-19 crisis

While many forms of crime are down in the U.S.A. due to the de facto national lockdown, the pandemic is creating new opportunities for criminals to defraud and exploit the public, which, according to Steven Merrill, head of the FBI’s Financial Crimes Section, is at “an extra level of desperation right now.”

It is also a public poised to actually begin receiving some measure of COVID-19 financial relief. With checks, including federal $1,200 stimulus, state unemployment, and other newly released money flowing out in the next few weeks, criminals are targeting this revenue stream by posing as bona fide officials. According to Agent Merrill, “criminals are reaching out to people through social media, emails, or phone calls pretending to be from the government. In some cases, they’re even going door-to-door to try to convince someone that they need to provide money for COVID testing, financial relief, or medical equipment.”

On April 2nd, the IRS issued its own warnings against COVID-19-related financial scams. “We urge people to take extra care during this period,” said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig. “The IRS isn’t going to call you asking to verify or provide your financial information so you can get an economic impact payment or your refund faster. That also applies to surprise emails that appear to be coming from the IRS.”

On its website, the IRS “reminds retirees who don’t normally have a requirement to file a tax return that no action on their part is needed to receive their $1,200 economic impact payment. Seniors should be especially careful during this period. The IRS reminds retirees – including recipients of Forms SSA-1099 and RRB-1099 − that no one from the agency will be reaching out to them by phone, email, mail or in person asking for any kind of information to complete their economic impact payment, also sometimes referred to as rebates or stimulus payments. The IRS is sending these $1,200 payments automatically to retirees – no additional action or information is needed on their part to receive this.”

“We are a very trusting society,” said the FBI’s Merrill, “but it’s important to know that the government will not reach out to you this way. If someone reaches out to you directly and says they’re from the government helping you with virus-related issues, it’s likely a scam. This “government” representative may be trying to use phishing or other techniques to hack your computer or get your personal information or money.”

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