Question: Will they text you about your stimulus? I never did get one and now I wonder if I should have answered a text I got a while back. I deleted it because I figured it was a scam.
Answer: It was an identity-theft scam. It’s a good thing you didn’t take the bait. The Internal Revenue Service “won’t initiate contact by phone, email, text or social media asking for Social Security numbers or other personal or financial information related to Economic Impact Payments,” the agency says, directing people to its website, irs.gov, for information about eligibility for the third payment (use the “Get My Payment” tool.)
EIPs, commonly referred to as “the stimulus,” were issued in three rounds last year and this year.
EIP scams are among many types of COVID-19-related fraud proliferating during the pandemic — everything from identity theft for fake unemployment insurance claims, to sales of phony cure-alls, to vaccine scams (the vaccine is freely available to people ages 12 and up; see hawaiicovid19.com/vaccine/).
As of mid-July, Hawaii residents have reported 2,524 cases of COVID-19 fraud to the Federal Trade Commission, with total losses of more than $2 million, according to a study by The Ascent, a service of the Motley Fool personal finance company. Nationwide, there were more than 540,000 COVID-19 fraud reports, with total losses topping $480 million.
Hawaii’s median loss was $360, near the national median of $366, but Hawaii residents were more likely to report having lost money than the average American victim. Nationwide, about 36% of all reports indicated a loss, the study said; in Hawaii, the figure was 45%.
Moreover, nearly 40% of the COVID-19 fraud reports from Hawaii involved identity theft, the study said, the second-highest percentage of any state. It said 996 of Hawaii’s 2,524 fraud reports involved identity theft, rather than other common scams such as bogus sales of goods or services.
Jack Caporal, research analyst at The Ascent, told Kokua Line that anyone targeted by scammers should report the matter to the FTC, whether they lost money or not. You can do so online, at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.
He also recommended subscribing to the FTC’s Consumer Alerts to stay abreast of the latest scams, which include fraud related to online shopping and vacation travel.
“If you’ve ordered something online and then get a text that you need to pay extra to get it delivered on a timely basis, that’s one of the biggest scams going on. Another really common scam is people posing as customer service agents for hotels, airlines and rental car companies,” he said, encouraging consumers to verify the websites, phone numbers and other contact information for businesses with which they intend to communicate.
Q: I may be seeking the services of a Realtor in the near future. Where should one look to verify licensing, credentials and if any complaints have been filed? Is there a state website?
A: Yes. The state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs’ Real Estate Branch has a website that should have most of the information you seek. Go to cca.hawaii.gov/reb/ and click on the square on the bottom right that says “Resources for Consumers.” You’ll need the real estate agent’s name to search for complaints against them.
If you’re looking for information about Oahu’s real estate market and an agent to represent you in a property sale or purchase, you might try the Honolulu Board of Realtors, whose website, hicentral.com, includes a “Find a Realtor” function.
A belated mahalo to a kind gentleman who generously paid for my sandwich at Subway Kailua. He was ahead of me and when he paid for his sandwich he also paid for mine, saying, “I paid for your lunch.” I was caught by surprise and I thanked him but I also want to acknowledge him here. May he be blessed for his generosity!
— Grateful senior
Write to Kokua Line at Honolulu Star-Advertiser, 7 Waterfront Plaza, Suite 210, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu 96813; call 529-4773; fax 529-4750; or email firstname.lastname@example.org.