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Scammers are using a variety of methods tied to COVID-19 economic impact payments to target consumers

The New York State Division of Consumer Protection (DCP) is alerting consumers on Jan. 6 about scammers taking advantage of COVID-19 economic stimulus payments. With another round of economic stimulus payments approved by Congress, scammers will be sending phishing emails, texts and phone calls and using social media to try to steal economic impact payments and your personal information. Consumers are reminded that it’s important to stay vigilant and aware of unsolicited communications asking for your personal or private information.

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, scammers have been hard at work trying to steal money from unsuspecting New Yorkers,” said Secretary of State Rossana Rosado. “With this latest round of stimulus funding on its way, I urge all New Yorkers to be extra diligent and follow simple steps to keep your money and personal identity safe.”

New York State Commissioner of Taxation and Finance Michael Schmidt said, “We all must remain especially vigilant against scam artists trying to steal this latest round of stimulus funding from New Yorkers. We’re sharing valuable information so you can learn how to spot red flags and where to find reliable information so you won’t be caught off guard by con artists.”

New York State Office of Information Technology Services Chief Information Officer Angelo “Tony” Riddick said, “New Yorkers are being challenged like never before by a global pandemic, and to make matters worse, we’ve seen unscrupulous individuals use technology in a desperate and dishonest attempt to scam them out of their own money. Fortunately, New Yorkers can protect themselves against these COVID-related scams if they are armed with the right information. Always be wary of unsolicited phone calls, texts, emails, links or attachments, even if the sender appears to be known. And, never send your personal information via email or text.”

What You Need to Know about Economic Impact Payments
On December 27, 2020, the federal government passed a pandemic relief package. An important component of individual relief, Economic Impact Payments, will be issued to New Yorkers from the IRS.

You don’t need to take any action to automatically receive your stimulus payment if you:

  • filed a 2018 or 2019 tax return and are eligible; or
  • received one of these benefits (unless claiming a qualifying child under age 17):
      • – Social Security retirement benefits and survivor benefits
      • – Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits and survivor benefits
      • – Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits
      • – Railroad Retirement and survivor benefits
      – Veterans Administration compensation (disability, death benefits etc.) or retirement benefits

While most people will receive their payment automatically, if you otherwise have not filed taxes recently, you may need to submit a simple Federal tax return to get your check. For more information on the Economic Impact Payments, New Yorkers should visit the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance at Economic Impact Payment information: what you need to know or the IRS at Economic Impact Payments.

Below are tips to help keep your economic impact payment and personal information safe from scammers:

  • Rely on trusted sites for information. Visit legitimate, government websites—for up-to-date, fact-based information about COVID-19. Visit the IRS website directly for the latest information on the economic impact payments. Remember, the government will never call to ask for your Social Security number, bank account, or credit card number.
  • Delete emails asking you for personal information to receive an economic stimulus check. Government agencies are not sending unsolicited emails seeking your private information in order to send you money.
  • Avoid clicking on links in unsolicited emails and be wary of email attachments. See Using Caution with Email Attachments and Avoiding Social Engineering and Phishing Scams for more information.
  • Don’t provide personal or banking information. Scammers may ask by phone, email, text or social media for verification of personal and/or banking information saying that the information is needed to receive or speed up your economic impact payment.
  • Do not agree to sign over your economic impact payment check. Scammers may ask you to sign over your stimulus payment check to them.
  • Be wary of bogus checks. Scammers may mail you a bogus check, perhaps in an odd amount, then tell the taxpayer to call a number or verify information online in order to cash it.
  • Do not cash unsolicited checks. Scammers use this tactic to get your bank account information, and you will incur fees when the check is found to be insufficient.
  • Be aware that scammers are also able to replicate a government agency’s name and phone number on caller ID. It’s important to remember that the IRS will never ask you for your personal information or threaten your benefits by phone call, email, text or social media.
  • Hang up on illegal robocallers. If you receive a call about economic impact payment scams, hang up. Don’t press any numbers. The recording might say that pressing a number will let you speak to a live operator or remove you from their call list, but it might lead to more robocalls, instead.
  • Notify the IRS if you are contacted by a potential scammer. If you receive an unsolicited email, text or social media attempt that appears to be from the IRS or an organization associated with the IRS, like the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System, notify the IRS at [email protected].
  • Verify a charity’s authenticity before making donations. Review the Federal Trade Commission’s page on Charity Scams for more information.
  • Review CISA Insights on Risk Management for COVID-19 for more information.

With assistance from ITS, the Department of Health continues to maintain up-to-date “Stay Cyber Safe” tips and active warnings at https://coronavirus.health.ny.gov/stay-cyber-safe.

The New York State Division of Consumer Protection serves to educate, assist and empower the State’s consumers. For more consumer protection information, call the DCP Helpline at 800-697-1220, Monday through Friday, 8:30am-4:30pm or visit the DCP website at www.dos.ny.gov/consumerprotection. The Division can also be reached via Twitter at @NYSConsumer or Facebook at www.facebook.com/nysconsumer.

-Information provided by the New York State Division of Consumer Protection

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By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Those businesses that qualified for a paycheck protection program (PPP) loan have had a bit of a honeymoon from the novel coronavirus these last eight weeks. They were allowed to apply to the government for two months plus 50 percent of their labor costs. From that money they had to pay at least 60 percent to workers to cover payroll, with the remainder underwriting other expenses like utilities, payroll taxes and leases.

So the employers who received the payments could relax during those two months, and the employees could also stop holding their breaths, knowing that their salaries would be paid. And the government would keep the workers employed. At least that was how it was supposed to work, and it did, except when the weekly unemployment insurance payments were greater than the weekly salaries and proved too much of a temptation to the employee. In those cases, the employer was in competition with the government and, depending on the worker’s loyalty and long term concern about holding onto a job, the employer would often lose. 

But the program was essentially a good one. The funds, paid to the businesses and-in turn to their employees, kept the work force together and saved the workers from the frustrations of trying to collect unemployment. 

The original thinking was that the pandemic would probably lessen after two months and businesses could resume as normal. Well, we now know how that turned out. The pandemic is still with us, although New York is in a much better condition at the moment than most of the rest of the country, but economic activity has not returned to anything like normal, and with social distancing, looks unlikely to return soon. 

For many of those businesses, the PPP honeymoon is almost over. How do we prevent a return to the layoffs, loss of company health insurance and nail biting of the pre-PPP days? 

The good thing about a pandemic is that the whole world is in the same situation, and we can look around and see how other countries are coping or trying to cope. The U.S. has relied on an expanded program of unemployment insurance to tide over workers until the economy resurrects itself. Many European countries have prevented joblessness by essentially nationalizing payrolls and enabling workers to continue to be paid and businesses to resume whenever that happy day comes, without having to rehire and possibly retrain. Workers are often furloughed if there is no work at the shuttered shops and factories, meaning that their jobs will be held for them and they continue to receive their salary, although generally at a reduced amount. 

In short, Europeans have been pursuing an extended PPP. Workers have not overwhelmed the unemployment insurance system, caused websites to crash, phones to go unanswered, lost health coverage, nor have they stood the requisite six feet apart in the hot sun on long lines in parking lots, waiting to get into benefit offices. There is also the intangible but priceless advantage of workers not feeling jobless, with the fear and loss of identity that often brings. 

And today, many feel just that. The U.S. number in June for jobless was 11.1 percent. That’s an increase of some eight percent since February. In the aforementioned European countries, the jobless rate has increased by less than 1 percent. In human terms, that means some 20 million Americans are unemployed. While that’s better than 23 million in April, probably almost all of those people have families who also will feel the effects as tenants begin to be evicted and queues form for food banks. 

We don’t know what is going to happen in the next few weeks, as government programs for business and unemployment benefits run out if not extended. The $600 federal unemployment boost is supposed to end July 31. Congress is debating whether to extend the time or modify the payout, even as some worry that paying workers more than their salary is a disincentive to work.

Just remember, we are in this together. Hang on and stay safe.