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Be on the Lookout: Small Business COVID-19 Scams

Opportunistic criminals are taking advantage of this challenging time to wage fraud campaigns against small businesses and their teams. While business owners might ordinarily spot these criminal attempts, many small companies are actively seeking information and support right now, which makes them more vulnerable.

Be on the lookout for the following current scams so you can protect your business, your colleagues, and yourself.

Government agency outreach scams

In this scam, criminals claiming to be from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), IRS, or U.S. Department of the Treasury request personal financial information, payment, or a purchase in exchange for COVID-19-related loans or grants. “Representatives” ask for an “advance fee” or personal financial information via calls, emails, or texts to facilitate access to funds from the SBA Payment Protection Program (PPP).

Please note that from April 6-10, Citizens Bank encouraged business customers to apply for a $15,000 grant as part of the Citizens Bank Small Business Recovery Program. This communication was legitimate and not fraud.

Bogus executive emails

Computer-virus-infected emails originate from what looks like a legitimate email from a sender familiar to the recipient, typically a person with power and responsibility within a company. The emails — sent to individuals or entire teams — request that recipients click on a link in the email to access “important information.” Clicking on the link activates a computer virus.

Fake donation sites

Since many small businesses give back generously to the community, scammers are now taking advantage of this by reaching out to businesses and requesting support for fraudulent donation sites. Proactively research and contact any organization to which you plan to donate. Avoid wiring money, paying by gift card, or giving cash as a donation to any organization that you’re not familiar with.

Stimulus facilitation scams

People claiming to be from the government call, email, or text requesting a fee or personal information so PPP payments can be administered quickly. In some cases, these criminals also promise to increase the loan amount a business will receive. Since the PPP is a government loan program, no one can rush payments or modify the amount you’ll receive beyond what’s specified by the SBA based on your payroll and expense amounts.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is reminding people that the government will not contact you to ask for your Social Security number, bank account, or credit card numbers.

Social media COVID-19 grant scams

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is reminding everyone that government agencies don’t reach out to businesses via social media. If you’re contacted by a government agency or other entity about available grants, gather your own contact information by visiting a legitimate government site, and use this as your means of communication rather than reaching out via the contact provided to you.

Health information phishing scams

Emails from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) claim to provide the latest updates on the virus. Once you click on a link, you give access to your computer (and perhaps the entire company’s network) to the cybercriminal. If you want official health updates, visit the CDC site. Alert your team to avoid clicking on links in emails that claim to be from these sources.

SBA grant emails

Criminals request a processing fee and banking information in exchange for an “application number” that’s supposed to help small businesses apply for disaster assistance. The email also includes a document authorizing a request for tax return information. When business owners upload information to the “site” listed in the email, a virus infects their computer.

IRS scams

While this scam isn’t new, criminals are currently hard at work to take advantage of small businesses during a vulnerable time. The IRS says it typically will first contact taxpayers via mail, not phone. If contact is made by a phone call, the IRS reminds people that it will never insist on payment over the phone or request personal financial information. If you receive such a call, you can file a complaint with the FTC. Add “IRS Telephone Scam" to the comments in your complaint.

Think twice before giving out sensitive business information

The SBA advises businesses to avoid releasing any private information, including Social Security numbers, credit card information, or banking information, in response to an unsolicited call, letter, or email. If you’re contacted by someone who raises suspicion, do a reverse search of their phone number on the internet to ensure it’s associated with a legitimate source.

Citizens Bank is here to help

If your business has been impacted by COVID-19 and is facing financial hardship, please reach out to us to discuss the ways we can help provide relief for you. In addition to accepting applications for the SBA Paycheck Protection Program, here’s what we’re offering Citizens Bank business customers:

  • Payment deferrals for up to 180 days with no credit bureau impact
  • Cash management service fee waivers for up to 90 days
  • Late fee and overdraft fee waivers
  • Small business referral facilitation for SBA Economic Injury Disaster loans

If you’re in need of assistance, please contact us. Please note that we’re currently receiving higher than normal call volumes as we help our customers during this difficult time. To expedite service, please identify yourself using your account number. Thank you for your patience!

Business Banking: 1-800-862-6200

Client Services (for Cash Management service fee waivers): 1-877-550-5933

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