Pittsburgh, PA – April 16, 2021 – Impersonation is a common tactic used by scammers who attempt to steal people’s personal information and money.

Whether an impostor pretends to be a victim’s friend or family member, a well-known business or government agency, scammers capitalize on the familiarity and trust people associate with whoever they choose to impersonate. Scammers also pay close attention to current events and the Better Business Bureau recognizes that there have been numerous recent efforts to exploit misconceptions and confusion surrounding the pandemic, specifically in relation to COVID-19 assistance being provided through government relief programs and expanded vaccination efforts.

Following the release of the third round of stimulus payments, BBB has recognized an increase in reports regarding government impostor scams promoting non-existent funding opportunities and government grants on social media. In many instances, scammers are either hacking the social media accounts of victims’ contacts or creating separate lookalike profiles by stealing photos and personal information. The following BBB Scam Tracker reports have been submitted recently by Western PA consumers:

  • Steven, a verification officer, from the Federal Brands Department called from a local number and said that I was chosen to receive a free government grant of $9000.00. He wanted my checking or savings account information, but told me that I could also get a Western Union, Walgreens or Walmart gift card to receive this money from. He gave me a verification code and a call back number to use for the transaction. (Victim is willing to speak with media.)
  • I received a message from a Facebook friend that began normally enough, but then she asked: Did you hear my news? I am getting $80,000 from the United States Funding Grant Program, co-sponsored by the U.S. government and the World Bank. She said I should apply for a grant, which I did, out of curiosity. I was asked a few questions, then sent an application to complete by text, including my Social Security number. That is when I texted my friend directly on her cell and found out she had no knowledge of our conversation.

Additionally, BBB is warning of scammers targeting the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) newly released COVID-19 Funeral Assistance program. This government relief program will pay up to $9,000 for funeral expenses that people have paid since January 20, 2020 for loved ones who died of COVID-19. As with any new government relief program, scammers capitalize on consumers’ initial lack of familiarity with a process and scammers are already contacting loved ones of COVID-19 victims and “offering” to register them for assistance. BBB is reminding people that FEMA will not contact anyone until they have called FEMA or applied for assistance.

Impostor scams are also targeting COVID-19 vaccine efforts now through a new twist to the classic survey scam. Local consumers are reporting receiving phony survey requests impersonating Pfizer and other pharmaceutical companies after receiving their COVID-19 vaccine. The phony survey sent by email or text message claims that you are eligible for an “exclusive rewards offer” by completing a short survey about your experience with the COVID-19 vaccine. In some instances, the link may lead to a real survey, which upon completion, prompts you to sign up for a “free trial offer.” In other versions, the form is actually a phishing scam that requests banking and credit card information. As more people continue to receive COVID-19 vaccinations and vaccine passport apps begin to rollout, BBB is reminding people to be cautious of likely scams that will begin to appear claiming to be from the government requiring the use of such apps. At this time, the U.S. federal government has no plans to create a “national vaccine passport” and any emails, calls or text messages making such claims should be reported to BBB Scam Tracker.

BBB Tips to Avoid Impostor Scams:

  • Guard your government-issued numbers. Never offer your Medicare ID number, Social Security number, health plan information, or banking information to anyone you don’t know or trust. Don’t post your vaccine card on social media, as this may make you more susceptible to being targeted by scams.
  • Don’t pay any money for a “free” government grant. A real government agency won’t ask you to pay a processing fee for a grant you have already been awarded. The only official list of all U.S. federal grant-making agencies is Grants.gov.
  • Double check the source. Scammers often buy official-looking URL domains to use in their cons. Be careful to ensure that the link destination is really what it claims to be. If the message claims to be from the government, make sure the URL ends in .gov. When in doubt, perform a separate internet search for the website or call the source directly.
  • Don’t be fooled by hacked or lookalike accounts. Your friend or family member may have impeccable judgment in real-life. But online, email messages, social posts and direct messages could be from a hacked or impersonated account. Alert social media administrators to fake profiles, compromised accounts and spam messages.

For more helpful advice on avoiding scams, visit BBB.org. Report scams to BBB Scam Tracker or call your BBB at 877.267.5222 for further assistance.

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ABOUT BBB: For more than 100 years, the Better Business Bureau has been helping people find businesses, brands and charities they can trust. In 2020, people turned to BBB more than 220 million times for BBB Business Profiles on more than 6.2 million businesses and Charity Reports on 11,000 charities, all available for free at BBB.org. There are local, independent BBBs across the United States, Canada and Mexico, including your BBB Serving Western Pennsylvania, which was founded in 1931 and serves the 28 counties of Western PA.