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COVID email from FTC chief Khan is a scam

FTC Chair Lina Khan testimony House Energy Commerce Committee 28June2021
FTC Chair Lina Khan was one of the officials appearing at a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing in June on the agency's plan to modernize consumer protection. (Screen shot from the committee's hearing video)

Most Americans don't pay too much attention to who's in charge of the various federal agencies. But a few now are learning about Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chair Lina Khan since her agency has renewed its antitrust lawsuit against Facebook.

And others know the Biden Administration appointee because they are getting phishing emails using Khan's name in a COVID-19 payment scam.

The email, purportedly from Khan, says the FTC wants to send you coronavirus relief funds. In order to get the money, the fake message tells recipients to send personal information, such as the targets' name, address, and date of birth.

"The FTC is not distributing Coronavirus economic stimulus or relief money to people," said the FTC in an alert about the fake Khan communication. "The email is a scam. Don't reply."

Let me repeat a few FTC points here.

IRS is the only agency involved: The FTC is not involved in any form or fashion in the delivery of COVID-related payments.

The Internal Revenue Service is the federal agency that's in charge of the distribution of economic impact payments, as well as the Advance Child Tax Credit (AdvCTC) payments that are going out on a monthly basis through the end of the year.

IRS isn't emailing us: Also, the IRS is not sending out emails about any COVID payments.

Earlier this year, the IRS did send letters via the U.S. Postal Service to families who, based on their previously-filed tax information, are eligible for the AdvCTC payments. And it snail mailed letters, actually official IRS Notice 1444, to  those who got any of the three coronavirus stimulus payments.

Phishing scams IRS warning

But the IRS isn't emailing folks about this pandemic-prompted payments.

Instead, the tax agency is urging individuals to contact it directly. This latest outreach is encouraging people who have questions about or want to make changes to their AdvCTC money to go online and use the IRS' official Child Tax Credit Update Portal.

That's where you can update or correct your filing and financial status, as well as give the IRS your bank information for direct deposit of the AdvCTC amounts. Neither the IRS nor any other federal agency will email you to ask for that info.

Khan con is not the first: The misappropriation of FTC Chair Khan's name is not the first time crooks have invoked top federal officials in illegal attempts to steal money and/or identities.

Back in 2017, a tax phishing email went out using then IRS Commissioner John Koskinen's name in an attempt to appear official. Three years earlier, other crooks tried conning email recipients by sending them a fake message from then Treasury Secretary Jack Lew.

Those phishing attempts, like the current Khan con, are written offshoots of the persistent IRS agent impersonation telephone scheme.

Many cons, one reaction: Regardless of whether you get an email or a phone call or a text message or a social media contact, your response should be the same. Ignore them all.

Don't reply in any format. It could provide the criminal entry to your devices.

Don't call any number left on your voice mail by a calling crook. It just lets them know they have valid contact information and will keep trying to lure (or scare) you into their scam net.

Definitely don't click on links in an email. It could download malware onto your computer or smartphone.

Report all criminal contact: What you do need to do is report the scam and identity theft attempts.

Let the FTC know via its online ReportFraud.ftc.gov page.

FTC fraud reporting notice banner 728x90

Forward any scam email to the Anti-Phishing Working Group at reportphishing@apwg.org.

If scammers contact you by text message or phone, report that, too.

Also let the IRS know of tax-specific scams.

Report all unsolicited email claiming to be from the IRS or an IRS-related function to phishing@irs.gov.

If you've lost money to the scammers who used the IRS or a tax issue in their cons, report that to the Treasury Inspector General Administration (TIGTA). Also file a complaint with the FTC through that agency's Complaint Assistant. That will get the info to investigators.

Stay safe by staying skeptical: Finally, use your common sense and trust your gut.

Scammers often take something that's true, like COVID-related payments from Uncle Sam, and then twist it to their nefarious ends.

If you have any questions about the legitimacy purported tax or coronavirus help, don't use contact information provided by the emailers or callers. Instead, go directly to the agency that's supposedly offering the assistance. Actual federal agents can clear up the confusion that the con artists have created.

Finally, trust your BS sensor. If something seems off about any kind of outreach, then it probably is a scam.

Remember that cliché about something seeming too good to be true is too good to be true. That definitely is true.

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