In this uncertain time of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be receiving economic assistance from Washington state or federal governmental agencies. Whether it is the stimulus check from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), unemployment from Washington State Employment Security Department (ESD), or other economic assistance, scam artists may go to great lengths to trick you out of your personal information or money.
What to watch out for
- Scammers posing as government officials. Scammers have been known to pose as an official working for a government agency. They will request personal information or money from you under the guise of assisting you in receiving your benefits.
- Claiming you owe money. Scammers might call you and claim to be from a governmental agency that is collecting back taxes or fines.
- Asking you to send money. No legitimate governmental agency will require the prepayment of fees, taxes on the income, the advance payment of a processing fee, or any other type of charge.
- Prepaid card scams: Be on the lookout for prepaid card scams. Here's how it generally happens: the caller will identify themselves as working for IRS and demands you pay $500 in fees you owe the IRS. Often times the caller will threaten you with arrest or the filing of a lawsuit against you if you don’t provide them with the money immediately.
The caller will then tell you to go buy a prepaid card at a particular store near you – often Walmart, Walgreens, or CVS. Once you buy the card the caller will demand the card number and PIN on the back of the card. Once you provide the scammer with the numbers from the prepaid card, the scammer immediately accesses the money you loaded onto the card.
Once they’ve done that, the scammers and your money are usually gone without a trace. Scams involving prepaid cards comprised over 25% of the scams reported to the Federal Trade Commission in 2018.
Tips on how to avoid scams
- Learn more about money transmission scams
Money transmitters licensed by DFI, like Green Dot, Western Union and MoneyGram have anti-fraud materials at each of their locations and online. DFI encourages consumers to review these materials before sending money. Below are links to some of these materials:
- Don't give out or verify any personal information
In general, no government agency will call or email you unexpectedly and request your personal information, or request advance fees for services in the form of wire transfers or prepaid cards.
- Don’t always trust your caller ID
Scammers can manipulate a caller ID to look like a legitimate government agency.
- Verify Information
Verify the identity of anyone who asks for your personal information over the phone, and say you will respond through the entity’s customer service channels. If anyone pressures you to provide information or money over the phone, it’s likely a scam. Hang up and call the agency directly using the number on the agency’s official website.
- Be wary of telephone calls or emails that require you to take immediate action or contain threats
Generally, governmental agencies will mail notices to you if you owe money, they will not call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment methods such as a prepaid card or wire transfer. In addition, they won’t threaten to bring in local police, immigration officers, or other law enforcement to have you arrested. Threats and a sense of urgency are common tactics scammers use to trick victims.
- Do not provide prepaid card numbers over the phone
No legitimate government entity will require you to provide them with a prepaid card in order for you to receive your governmental benefits. In addition, they wouldn’t ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
- Ask for help
If you have any doubt about whether you may be a target of fraud, ask the money transmitter (if you are using one) or contact DFI at 1-877-RING DFI (746-4334) or online at www.dfi.wa.gov.
What to do if you think you’ve been a victim of fraud:
- File a complaint:
- For phones scams: FTC at 1-877-FTC HELP (382-4357) or www.ftc.gov or Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) at 1-855-411-CFPB (2372) or www.consumerfinance.gov
- For scams related to the IRS: Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 800-366-4484 or www.treasury.gov
- For internet scams: Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.
- If the scams involves a prepaid card, quickly contact the company that issued the prepaid card. Tell them the card was used in a scam and see if the money is still on the card. If you act quickly enough, and the money hasn’t been removed from the card, the company may be able to refund your money.
- Report the scam to the Washington State Office of the Attorney General at 1-800-551-4636 or online at www.atg.wa.gov/file-complaint.