Fake stimulus checks, deceptive advertising trick citizens in need of COVID-19 relief funds

Fraudsters quickly got to work figuring out ways to rip off Americans who were expecting a check from the U.S. Treasury, as part of the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

The Secret Service, the U.S. Department of Treasury, and the FBI are now working to track down anyone who victimized citizens during this difficult time. The agencies are also urging everyone to do what they can to protect themselves from scammers and criminals.

You may get a physical stimulus check in the mail instead of a direct deposit, so the U.S. Secret Service is laying out how to spot a real one versus a fake.

Paper checks issued by the U.S. Department of Treasury have special features. You will want to look for things like a watermark and the official treasury seal.

There is a new treasury seal that will only say “Bureau of Fiscal Service.” When you apply a little moisture to it, the ink bleeds red.

The check also has a watermark on the front and back saying “US Treasury.” With a blacklight, you can see the ultraviolet overprinting pattern. Plus, there’s micro-printing on the back saying “USA” repeatedly.

The check will say “Economic Impact Payment President Donald J Trump.”

LINK: View images of the official U.S. Treasury checks (PDF)

Cashing a fake check can cost you more than wasted time, according to the Better Business Bureau.

“If that’s a fake check, those funds are deposited automatically. By law, the banks have to make those funds available and it could take two weeks or more for the banks to find out that it’s a fake check and then you’re out that money you sent back to the scammer,” explained Bryan Oglesby with the Better Business Bureau of West Florida.

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Also be on the lookout for text messages, emails, or phone calls from supposed federal government agencies.

“They’re going to contact consumers and spoof the government’s name and website address and maybe create fake websites,” Oglesby said.

The government will never call you about a check or payment.

Finally, be on the lookout for deceptive advertising related to stimulus checks or the novel coronavirus.

The Florida Attorney General said it filed a complaint against a Tampa company for using fake checks as part of a used car promotion.

Consumer experts say to be cautious and, when in doubt, go to the source, like the IRS or Treasury.

“For the companies that are doing deceptive advertising and scam artists taking advantage of the consumers, the key behind that is for the consumers to report it,” Oglesby said.

If you think you may have received a fake stimulus check or were the victim of a COVID-19-related scam, contact your local law enforcement agency, a Secret Service Field Office, the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of Inspector General, the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at tips.TIGTA.gov, the Internet Crime Complaint Center at  ww.ic3.gov, the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF), Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

If you feel sick:

The Florida Department of Health has opened a COVID-19 Call Center at 1-866-779-6121. Agents will answer questions around the clock. Questions may also be emailed to covid-19@flhealth.gov. Email responses will be sent during call center hours.

LINK: Florida's COVID-19 website

CORONAVIRUS IN FLORIDA: What you need to know

AROUND THE WORLD: CoronavirusNOW.com

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