Bayonne warns residents of stimulus check scam

COVID-19 related scams have been plaguing NJ since the start of the pandemic

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The city of Bayonne is warning its residents to be cautious of scams during the COVID-19 pandemic. Mayor James Davis is advising residents to avoid or end any phone calls regarding personal information and stimulus checks.

Recently, President Trump signed a bill into law that would grant American families “stimulus checks” to offer economic support to Americans suffering financially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under the relief package, Americans can receive up to $1,200 or more depending on their tax returns for 2019.

For people who have already filed their 2019 tax returns, the IRS will use this information to calculate the payment amount. For those who have not yet filed their return for 2019, the IRS will use information from their 2018 tax filing to calculate the payment.

According to the IRS, tax filers with adjusted gross income up to $75,000 for individuals and up to $150,000 for married couples filing joint returns will receive the full payment of $1,200.

For filers who made more than $75,000, the payment amount is reduced by $5 for each $100 above the threshold. Single filers with income exceeding $99,000 and joint filers with income exceeding $198,000 with no children are not eligible.

Eligible taxpayers who filed tax returns for either 2019 or 2018 will automatically receive an economic impact payment of up to $1,200 for individuals or $2,400 for married couples. The IRS states that parents will also receive $500 for each qualifying child.

Scamming the elderly

As these “stimulus checks” are being distributed, scammers are taking advantage of misinformed residents who may be in desperate need of financial assistance from the government. Typical targets for phone scams include the elderly, who are at the highest risk during the pandemic.

“[Scammers] have organized telephone frauds that offer people the chance to get stimulus checks or tax refund checks early from the Internal Revenue Service,” Mayor Davis stated.

As elderly residents wait for their stimulus check to help survive the crisis, nefarious scammers are preying upon the elderly’s technological ignorance to steal personal information.

“It saddens and angers me to no end that there are people out there who would try to use this crisis to steal money from those who don’t know any better,” Mayor Davis stated, lamenting the situation.

The scam involves phone calls requesting personal information from residents so that they can receive their “stimulus checks” and other cash rewards. However, as is the case with most phone calls asking for personal information, this is a scam.

“Never give any personal information to anyone over the phone,” Mayor Davis said.

According to Davis, the government doesn’t make phone calls in that manner. The IRS will never contact anyone by phone.

Another scam targeting seniors preys upon victims under the guise of a relative.

Scammers have been calling seniors with the claim that their grandchild has COVID-19. The scammers claim that the grandchild needs money to pay a hospital bill, and that the grandparent should pay the bill by offering their bank account number or credit card number over the phone.

When it comes to avoiding falling prey to these COVID-19 related phone scams, Mayor Davis has some simple advice for residents in the city.

“If you receive a call asking for your personal information, hang up the phone,” Davis stated. “It’s as simple as that.”

While that may prevent a resident from being scammed, further action will be needed to stop the scammers’ operations altogether.

The formation of joint federal-state task force to investigate and prosecute a wide range of misconduct arising from the COVID-19 pandemic was announced on March 30 by U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal, and New Jersey Acting State Comptroller Kevin D. Walsh.

Common COVID-19 scams

The scams that will be investigated by the COVID-19 Fraud Task Force include the unlawful hoarding of medical supplies, price gouging, charity scams, procurement fraud, insurance fraud, phishing schemes, and false and misleading investment opportunities.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office has detailed each scam so that residents can avoid being preyed on during the pandemic. Mayor Davis also gave insight on some scams encountered in Bayonne thus far.

The most nefarious and deceptive scam involves provider scams that escalate from over the phone to in-person.

“News stories have inspired criminals to telephone people with the offer to come to your house to give you a test,” Davis stated. “Do not fall for it. Get off the phone right away. The criminals are likely to come to your house to attack you and steal your valuables.”

According to Davis, legitimate COVID-19 tests are organized by hospitals and government agencies, not by strangers soliciting over the phone.

Provider scammers are also contacting people by phone and email, pretending to be doctors and hospitals that have treated a friend or relative for COVID-19, and demanding payment for that treatment.

Similarly, treatment scammers are offering to sell fake cures, vaccines, and advice on unproven treatments for COVID-19.

“Scammers have also been calling people with ‘special investment opportunities’ to buy stock in miracle cures for the
Coronavirus,” Mayor Davis explained. “Once again, do not fall for it.”

Some scammers are creating fake shops, websites, social media accounts, and email addresses claiming to sell medical supplies currently in high demand, such as surgical masks. When consumers attempt to purchase supplies through these channels, fraudsters pocket the money and never provide the promised supplies.

“The criminals claim on the phone that they can sell you special masks, sprays, medicines, and hand sanitizers to fight the Coronavirus,” Davis stated. “Typically, they offer the promise of these products in exchange for the consumer’s bank account information or credit card numbers.”

Charity scammers are soliciting donations for individuals, groups, and areas affected by COVID-19.

Phishing scammers posing as national and global health authorities, including the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), are sending phishing emails designed to trick recipients into downloading malware or providing personal identifying and financial information.

App scammers are also creating and manipulating mobile apps designed to track the spread of COVID-19 to insert malware that will compromise users’ devices and personal information.

The New Jersey COVID-19 Fraud Task Force will marshal the collective investigative power of federal and state law enforcement agencies by forming joint investigative and prosecution teams to quickly address fraud complaints.

In addition, the Task Force will share information publicly about common frauds so individuals and businesses can better protect themselves.

Residents are encouraged to report possible scams through a hotline established by the National Center for Disaster Fraud at (866) 720-5721 or by email at disaster@leo.gov.

Complainants may remain anonymous, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com.