(Sun-Herald) – Financial fraud schemes are showing up across Mississippi amid the coronavirus outbreak, putting thousands of residents at risk of being scammed out of their federal stimulus checks, the state auditor said.
In a statement Tuesday, State Auditor Shad White warned that financial scams are common in times of emergency. White urged residents to keep their eyes peeled for fraudsters and released information on how to avoid falling victim to a sham.
“As a Certified Fraud Examiner, I’m alarmed by the number of schemes we’re seeing pop up around Mississippi and on social media,” he said in a press release. “Everyone needs to stay vigilant and use common sense in times like these.”
White said what’s most troubling is that scammers appear to be targeting older residents.
“Please tell your older loved ones to be on the lookout and to be suspicious of any pandemic-related sales pitches directed to the elderly,” his statement continued.
In March, Congress approved a historic $2 trillion stimulus package aimed at helping U.S. workers, businesses and industries hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, White says the Magnolia State has seen an uptick in fraudsters trying to intercept payments by way of charity fraud, online “phishing” and robocalls promising a check in exchange for bank information, among other schemes.
The first round of stimulus checks is now hitting bank accounts, according to multiple media outlets. White urged residents to be wary of unexpected phone calls, especially those from unrecognized numbers. People should also be on the lookout for con artists who claim they’re collecting COVID-19 relief funds for charity, he said.
“Be skeptical of charities demanding payments in cash only,” White added, noting that do-gooders should research and verify that the charity is legitimate before making a donation.
Scams involving fake testing kits and promises of a coronavirus “cure” have also become cause for concern, according to the Office of the State Auditor.
As of Wednesday, there are over 3,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Mississippi and 111 deaths. The fast-spreading disease, which can cause severe respiratory illness, has sickened nearly 610,000 people nationwide.
The auditor’s office said a number of other schemes have popped up across Mississippi, including vendor fraud, in which a corrupt company uses fake invoices to steal public funds; scams pressuring people to buy stock based on a company’s response to COVID-19; and price gouging.
In his statement, White urged residents to report scams to the proper authorities, such as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the Mississippi Office of the State Auditor and even local police. In an effort to protect consumers, the IRS has also launched a portal allowing Americans to track the status of their payments, with information about the type of payment they’ll receive, McClatchy News reported.
Americans earning $75,000 or less can expect a $1,200 check, plus $500 for each dependent.
Those who make more or owe back child support will receive a lesser amount.