The phone rings, and even though it’s a number you don’t recognize, you answer it. On the other end is someone from the government. You can tell, because they tell you so, and they sound very official. They’re calling because of the generous program offering relief to people just like you.

You talk to this government official and they really seem to know what they’re talking about. They seem to know a lot about you, as well. They’re in a good position to help you, and goodness knows you need the help. All they need is a little bit of information to get this relief money flowing quickly into your bank account…

Sounds legit.

Let’s be clear: There are a host of programs out there right now that are genuinely offering financial help to folks who have found themselves unemployed or facing a loss of income due to reduced business. They are programs from the government that – contrary to popular opinion – actually help people. There are the one-time stimulus checks, state and federal unemployment programs, small business loans, and more. They are coming from the federal government, state agencies, and even cities and towns. And they really do help.

But nobody from the government is going to proactively call you to ask why you aren’t taking advantage of this or that program.

We’ve all heard the urban myth of the Faraway Prince who scams a widow out of her life savings. The truth is, there are people all over the world who support themselves and their families by pretending to be Faraway Princes and scamming widows out of their life savings.

All they need is a little bit more information.

Here are some helpful tips:

  • Never, ever, ever give your personal information, like social security number or banking information, to anyone on an unsolicited call. This goes for people claiming to be from the government, callers trying to collect for the IRS, or those trying to catch up your debt. Anyone. The only people you should offer this information to are people that YOU call.
  • Never trust the number. Technology makes much about our modern life easier, and especially so for financial matters, but it also makes it easier for scammers to pretend to be someone they’re not. That caller ID may say “IRS” or be showing a Washington, DC area code or have an SBA logo, but that doesn’t mean that call is actually coming from there. That call can be coming from half a world away. It’s called “spoofing,” and unlike comedy, it’s not a laughing matter.
  • Email is not any better. As easy as it is to make your phone number appear to be someone else, it’s easier to fake an email address. If it doesn’t end in “dot-gov” be very concerned. Be very wary of any email that asks you to click a link or fill out a form to get things started. Not only will you provide an opportunity for someone to get your personal information, a hacker can use that link or form to gain access to your computer or device. Now any function that you perform online, like paying bills or depositing checks, can be seen and intercepted by that hacker. All of our accounts and information are now their accounts and information.
  • It’s always free. When you pursue a process like bankruptcy, there are fees. You pay someone like us to help you navigate it. There may be costs for court processes. You may pay to obtain or process certain types of documents. But there is no fee for unemployment. The government won’t charge you up front to provide you with a loan.
  • Trust but verify. You may be contacted by an actual financial institution. You may do your due diligence and discover that, while they’re not huge, they do offer financial services. But the government has only certified certain banks and lending institutions to provide aid through the various programs currently in effect.

Being wary of unusual phone numbers and random emails is the first step towards protecting yourself from the Faraway Princes of the world. If you’re ever in doubt, call an expert. It’s better to be safe than scammed.