BBB alerts public on COVID-19 scams targeting small business owners

Local News

BATON ROUGE, La (BRPROUD)- With the new United States’ COVID-19 relief package rolling out, scam artists are at it again! This time, scammers are targeting small businesses, claiming they are missing out on pandemic relief funding they’ve never even heard of!

Here is how the scam works:

You receive a call, email, or social media message directed to you as a business owner or bookkeeper. It seems to come from a legitimate business or organization. The person you communicate with asks if your business is taking advantage of a COVID-19 relief package or government grant you are unaware of. When you tell them you aren’t, they offer to sign you up right away. In fact, since you didn’t know you should be receiving these funds, they already owe you hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Scammers may then ask you to pay a processing or delivery fee to receive your relief funds. Unfortunately, once they get your “processing fee,” they will disappear for good.

Sometimes these offers appear to come from someone you trust. Scammers are either hacking social media accounts or creating separate, lookalike profiles by stealing photos and personal information. 

One business owner reported, “I was contacted by my actual bookkeeper who I am friends with on Facebook. She told me to apply for this grant for small businesses that had suffered during the pandemic.” The business owner clicked through to the website and filled out a form. Then, they got a text message confirming the loan. There was one problem: “You had to put up a certain amount of money as a processing fee to get the grant.”

The BBB suggest using these tips on avoiding potential COVID-19 relief scams:

Never pay money for “free money.” If anyone claims you can receive money for free by paying a fee, don’t believe them. This is a common scam tactic.

Understand government grants. If your business is awarded a government grant, the government won’t ask you to pay fees to receive it. Before you believe something a stranger tells you about getting a grant, check the official list of all U.S. federal-grant-making agencies at Grants.gov. For more information regarding Canadian grants, contact the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada.

Double check the claims, before you sign up. If an organization is offering you a grant or relief funds, get to know them before you agree to anything. Take a close look at their website and read consumer reviews. If you think you might be dealing with an imposter, find the official contact information and call the company to make sure the offer is legitimate.

Be careful, even if the information comes from a friend. Even if a close friend of business associate you trust send you the information regarding a grant or COVID-19 relief, make sure the claims are real before you get involved. Social media accounts can be hacked and con artists may be posing as your friend.

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