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Scammers Preying On COVID-19 Fears Becoming More Sophisticated, Better Business Bureau Warns

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Scammers preying on the public's fears about COVID-19 are becoming more sophisticated, the Better Business Bureau warns in a new study.

In the study,  (BBB) found scammers have taken advantage of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic by posing as Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officials, Internal Revenue Service representatives who can expedite economic impact payments or contact tracers employed with local government agencies.

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration says it has received over 1,700 complaints about calls supposedly from "IRS agents" who claim they can speed up stimulus payments under the CARES Act passed during the pandemic. Scammers get personal information from victims and use it to have government payments redirected to accounts they control.

"Government impostor scams are constantly evolving, and they prey on people with threats of being arrested if money is not paid or personal information provided," says Steve Bernas, BBB Chicago, and Northern Illinois president and CEO. "Consumers need to know how to recognize and avoid this upsetting and costly fraud."

A recent AARP survey found that 44% of people in the U.S. have been contacted by one of these impersonators. Law enforcement officials have received hundreds of thousands of complaints, according to a BBB news release.

In many cases, scammers insist they are law enforcement officers and threaten to arrest people immediately if they do not pay money, usually with gift cards. They may tell consumers their Social Security number has been associated with a crime or may threaten to deport recent immigrants or arrest people for missing jury duty.

Other scam callers lure victims with the promise of a "free" government grant, which they claim will be awarded if the victim pays a fee with a gift card or prepaid debit card. In reality, there is no grant.

Impostor calls from India must first go through a "gateway carrier" in the U.S. These carriers often provide "spoofed" phone numbers. The Department of Justice recently sued two of these carriers while the FTC and Federal Communication Commission issued warning letters to others. As a result, robocalls and individual calls coming from India have declined drastically over the last several months.

How to complain about government impostor scams:

●      IRS: The Internal Revenue Service advises people to fill out the "IRS Impersonation Scam" form on the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Impersonation's website,, or call TIGTA at 1-800-366-4484.

●      Social Security: The Office of the Inspector General, Social Security Administration (SSA IG) has its own online form to take complaints about frauds impersonating the SSA.

●      Federal Trade Commission: 877-FTC Help or

●      Internet Crime Complaint Center

●      Contact your cellphone carrier, which may offer free services such as scam call identification and blocking, ID monitoring, a second phone number to give out to businesses.

●      File a report with BBB Scam Tracker.

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