Scammers are ramping up efforts to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic and steal people’s stimulus or economic impact payments along with their financial identities, according to the Minnesota Department of Commerce.

“Stimulus check schemes are emerging as the latest COVID-19 deceptions meant to separate you and your money,” said Steve Kelley, Minnesota commerce commissioner. “Don’t be fooled. Identity theft and senior scams are always on our radar. Now we add stimulus check schemes to the mix.”

Kelley noted the scams include phishing texts, e-mails and calls asking for sensitive information in order to receive stimulus payments.

Credit card information, bank accounts, Social Security and other information often are requested.

An impersonator may claim to be from the IRS or a bank. They may tell consumers they must pay a fee via credit card or personal bank account withdrawal to receive their “coronavirus check” or stimulus payment.

Responding to spoofed information and requests from fake government agencies opens consumers to serious financial losses, Kelley warned.

Consumers can defend against stimulus payment scams by remembering the following information:

• The IRS won’t phone, text or e-mail you about your stimulus payment.

• You will not be asked for your SSN, bank account or government benefits debit card account number.

• You don’t have to pay to get your stimulus money.

• Report stimulus schemes to the Internal Revenue Service.

Consumers – including those caring for a senior citizen - should continue watching closely for COVID-19 scams, attempts to steal people’s medical and financial identities.

There is currently no cure for COVID-19. Bogus cures, vaccines and treatments remain widespread for their illegal profit potential.

Seniors and their Medicare accounts are frequent targets. Fight back against these frauds. Do not respond to robocalls, texts, e-mails from strangers or unfamiliar door-to-door solicitors.

Deal only with sources you know and trust.

Consult a trusted physician or other health care provider to order a COVID-19 test or see Minnesota’s statewide listing of testing locations.

Never click on links from unknown sources. Clicking may download harmful malware.

Cyber-criminals aim to exploit people’s fear, uncertainty and desire for current information about COVID-19.

Cyber threats and scams can target you anywhere and through any means, including your personal and work e-mails, robocalls on your phone and suspicious Web sites as you search the Internet.

“Minnesotans can help prevent these types of fraud by being aware and reporting financial scams to the Consumer Services Center at the Minnesota Department of Commerce,” said Kelley.

The Consumer Services Center can be reached by e-mail at consumer.protection@state.mn.us or by calling (651) 539-1600 or 800-657-3602.

- Image courtesy of the Internet Public Domain