Imagine getting an invoice claiming that you owe $100 for something called the 2020 coronavirus tax rebates.

“Because you pay your income taxes on time, you have been awarded a

free $12,500 government grant,” the invoice says.

“To get your grant, simply give us your checking account information, and we will direct-deposit the grant into your bank account!”

The invoice, supposedly from the Internal Revenue Service, could be tempting for those who need extra cash amid the pandemic. 

Con artists know that families are under financial stress and distracted by a variety of challenging situations, such as job loss or illness. 

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And while losing $50 or $100 might be a nuisance for those who are well off, those  who are struggling can’t afford it.  

And paying one such fake invoice could set you up as someone who could be easily tricked into handing over more money. 

“You pay this check and I will help you get this government grant,” the invoice says.”The government grant arrives in your account 30 days after the check is paid. 

“Now the coronavirus is serious and the IRS does not have enough money to issue additional government grants.

“Please keep silent, this is not an opportunity for everyone.” 

Yep, it’s a great opportunity to get scammed and give a crook access to your bank account. Some consumers have been asked to hand over $250 up-front.

Consumers complain that they’ve been receiving such invoices via their PayPal accounts.   There has been online chatter about a fake WHO invoice that can range from $20 to $50 that unexpectedly appears in  PayPal accounts.

The fake WHO invoice states, in part: “COVID-19 Relief Fund: Help us to expand our water, sanitation, hygiene and health programs to save more lives. As COVID-19 spreads, it poses a grave danger to communities with struggling health systems.” 

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Some wonder why PayPal isn’t blocking these scammers in the first place. And some fear that somehow scammers could access their money, perhaps if the consumer somehow unknowingly sets up an automatic payment of some kind. . 

Consumers were concerned that this wasn’t a garden variety phishing attempt. An “invoice” in an account sounds official, especially when it’s connected to an account that’s used to pay bills or repay friends. 

PayPal confirmed that such invoices are fake. The invoices “have been canceled and we’re taking the appropriate actions against the persons who sent those to you,” a PayPal employee told one consumer. And PayPal told that customer that nothing else was out of line with that account.

Kim Eichorn, a spokesperson for PayPal, told me that the company’s team was “aware of this scam, and had already enabled advanced fraud and risk management tools in order to protect any customers who may have received this email.”

PayPal said, “The security of our customer’s account information is always a top priority for PayPal. When we become aware of phishing scams, we proactively work with law enforcement agencies, industry partners and use our own systems to detect fraud and mitigate the issue.”

PayPal customers are encouraged to protect themselves when clicking links or opening attachments. Customers can report potential phishing emails to [email protected]

In general, experts say it’s best that you don’t open an email you think may be fake. Don’t reply, don’t click on inks and don’t open attachments.

No one should give any money toward an advance fee – for taxes, legal documents, whatever – if they’ve won a prize or somehow get access to supposedly free money. The fraudsters make off with your cash and you’re left with nothing. 

This latest PayPal invoice drama, of course, isn’t the only dirty trick out there. 

The IRS  has warned of a tremendous uptick in phishing schemes that are distributed via email, letters, texts and links. The crooks are often using the keywords “Coronavirus,” “COVID-19” and “stimulus.” 

Scam artists have long targeted small businesses – and even mammoth enterprises – with phony invoices. Often, the invoices look legitimate and try to get you to pay for some service or product that you might have used.  

On Aug. 19, for example, an invoice scam out of New York reportedly bilked Amazon out of at least $19 million, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

“The defendants manipulated Amazon’s vendor system in attempts to fraudulently induce Amazon to pay for goods that Amazon had not ordered,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York. 

If big players can get taken by an invoice scam, why not everyday consumers? 

Contact Susan Tompor via [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @tompor. To subscribe, please go to Read more on business and sign up for our business newsletter.

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