Coronavirus/COVID-19: Financial Fraud and Scams - Financial Regulation
(This page is updated regularly. Last update April 24, 2020.)
Protect yourself and your loved ones from financial fraud and scams that prey on the fears and concerns of the public due to the COVID-19 virus. Educating yourself to the potential risks and utilizing fact-checked information from trusted sources are the keys to protecting your financial assets and wellbeing.
HOW TO AVOID COVID-19 RELATED FRAUD AND SCAMS
Fraud and scams come in a variety of forms including: phishing emails with malicious links or attachments that trick you into revealing sensitive information; illegal robocalls; illegal debt collection; and solicitations for donations to fake charities.
Be careful when opening any email related to COVID-19 and be wary of social media ads, texts, or unknown phone calls.
Be especially mindful of “imposter scams” – emails, phone calls, or other solicitations from fraudsters posing as government agencies or debt collectors in an attempt to scam you out of your unemployment benefits and stimulus payments.
Steps that you can take to protect yourself:
- Avoid clicking on links in unsolicited emails and be wary of attachments. Email scammers will try to create a sense of urgency or fear in victims and may infect your phone or computer with viruses and malware.
- Use trusted sources such as legitimate government websites for the most up-to-date fact-based information about COVID-19. Social media should not be relied upon as your primary source of trusted information.
- Do not reveal personal or financial information in an email or over the phone, and do not respond to solicitations for this information.
- Do not answer or respond to illegal robocalls to your phone.
- If a debt collector contacts you, they must tell you the name of the creditor and the amount owed. If you dispute the debt, the debt collector will have to obtain verification of the debt. If the debt collector does not provide this information during the initial contact with you, they’re required to send you a written notice within five days of that initial contact.
- Always confirm the legitimacy of a charity before making donations by contacting the charity directly or otherwise verifying the charity’s existence through the Maryland Secretary of State or Internal Revenue Service. Do not donate if you are being pressured by the solicitor or if they insist on a cash donation.
STUDENT LOAN SCAMS
Beware of companies or fraudsters posing as purported “government agencies” contacting you by email, text or phone calls promising to help with student loan relief or resolve issues on your behalf. Here are some tips to avoid student loan repayment scams:
- Never pay an upfront fee. It’s illegal for companies to charge you in advance before helping you to reduce or eliminate your student loan debt. Do not pay any company an upfront fee. Paying a company a fee is no guarantee that they will be successful in getting assistance for you. If you do pay an upfront fee you might lose your money.
- Only scammers promise fast loan forgiveness. Scammers might say they can quickly get your loans forgiven through a loan forgiveness program but they can’t.
- Don’t share your Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID with anyone. Scammers could use it to take control of your personal financial aid information on U.S. Department of Education websites.
STIMULUS CHECK FRAUD
If you receive a stimulus check in the mail from the federal government (also called the "economic impact payment"), be sure to confirm its authenticity! Fraudsters want to take advantage of these payments to scam citizens out of their money.
There are several features to look for on your check to ensure it is not counterfeit. A legitimate check should have: bleeding ink when moisture is applied to the seal, a unique U.S. Treasury watermark, ultraviolet overprinting on the front of the check, and micro-printing on the back of the check that is only visible when magnified.
Small details make a big difference! Protect yourself by learning about stimulus check security features. See the "Know Your U.S. Treasury Check Campaign" for more information on counterfeit checks and where to report COVID-19 related check fraud.
If you believe that you have been a victim of a financial scam related to mortgages, collections, credit services or student loan debt, contact our office to file a fraud reporting form.
If you believe that you have been a victim of a securities fraud or to report price-gouging, contact the Maryland Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division Office.
The Maryland Attorney General issued these Consumer Alerts on COVID-19 related fraud and scams: Tips to Avoid Coronavirus Stimulus Payment Scams (4/23/2020); Beware of COVID-19-Related Investment Schemes (4/21/2020); Beware of Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) Scams and Fraud (4/7/2020); and About Coronavirus Disease 2019 Scams (3/6/2020)
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has information on protecting your finances during the coronavirus pandemic, legitimate debt collection, and tips for financial caregivers on how you can help protect your loved ones.
The Conference of State Bank Supervisors has information on how to verify mortgage lenders and servicers, contact HUD-approved housing counselors as well as recognize the warning signs of fraud here.