Imagine getting an invoice from the IRS claiming that you owe $100 in taxes for Covid-19 tax relief.
The e-mail might read something like, “You have been awarded a $10,000 government grant.”
It may go on to say that to get your grant you must provide your banking account information and pay a $100 tax.
The “invoice” claims to be from an employee at the Internal Revenue Service.
It continues by saying, “If you pay this I will help you get this government grant. The government grant arrives in your account 30 days after the check clears.”
Consumers have complained that they’ve been receiving these invoices via their PayPal accounts.
Victims are getting fake invoices from the World Health Organization in their PayPal accounts as well.
The fake WHO invoice states, “COVID-19 Relief Fund: Help us to expand our water, sanitation, hygiene and health programs.”
The thing is, an “invoice” to your PayPal account sounds official.
This is especially true when it’s connected to an account that’s used to pay bills or friends.
But PayPal confirmed that these invoices are fake.
According to PayPal, the invoices “have been canceled and we’re taking the appropriate actions against the persons who sent them.”
Now, it should be no surprise that once you pay a fake invoice you will continue to be a target.
And the losses could add up.
With the ongoing pandemic, relief money is helping businesses and families alike.
And con artists know that many people are under financial stress.
Invoice and payment fraud scams have increased by 200% in 2020. Business owners are desperate. Scammers know to target them with fake invoices for things such as protective gear.
The IRS has warned of an uptick in scams distributed via email, letters, texts, and links.
The scammers usually use words like Coronavirus, COVID-19, and stimulus in a variety of ways.
But, these criminals don’t only target PayPal users.
They are also focusing on small businesses that need money to stay afloat.
And while criminals have long targeted small businesses and ordinary people.
These newer attacks are different from the standard Business Email Compromise.
Rather than using a fake request for a money transfer by a CEO, this scam focuses on supply chains and research.
The criminals usually have enough information to trick the victim into paying.
The newest scams are so sophisticated that they send invoices to multiple employees within a company.
This way, if an employee sees others copied on the e-mail, they may think the invoice is legitimate.
Of course, no one should give any money toward an advance fee for taxes, legal documents, or whatever.
But if the invoice is also going to your boss or your spouse, you may think it’s real.
And while fraudulent invoices look “danger-close” to real invoices…
They usually contain warning signs.
If you receive an invoice, keep an eye out for the following red flags:
One way scammers convince you that an invoice is legit is by sending it from a subscription service.
For instance, let’s say you have Microsoft Office for your computer and pay a $100 yearly subscription.
The scammers will send you an invoice for the subscription in hopes that you don’t remember when you paid it last.
The invoice will appear with the logo and real looking letterhead.
Yet, if you make a payment it will go straight to the fraudster.
If you receive an invoice you should first check the address with the actual company.
A fraudster may send a bill with the name of a company you do business with but use a different payable address.
This scheme often targets senior citizens who are more likely to pay bills by mailing a check.
Instead of sending your payment to the legitimate company, you pay the fraudster.
So, not only did you lose money, you likely still owe the actual company.
When you receive an invoice, you should compare the receipt of goods with the invoice.
Delivered items should have some documentation from the delivery company.
Fraudsters send invoices for goods you never received, so you won’t have a receipt for them.
Also, if you pay bills for a company you should have a purchase order associated with the bill.
And real invoices almost always contain the corresponding purchase order. But, most fake invoices do not.
The bottom line is: if you think you’ve received a fake invoice, don’t ever pay it and call the legitimate company by looking up their phone number on the internet.
Just know that some scammers go to the extreme and will call you and harass you about a late payment.
Don’t bow to the pressure.