COVID-19 Consumer Warnings and Safety Tips
Beware of Stimulus Check Scams!
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As the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues to impact the United States, phone scammers have seized the opportunity to prey on consumers.
The FCC has received reports of scam and hoax text message campaigns and scam robocalls offering free home testing kits, promoting bogus cures, selling health insurance, and preying on virus-related fears.
A text message scam may falsely advertise a cure or an offer to be tested for coronavirus. Do not click on links in texts related to the virus, and check cdc.gov/coronavirus for the most current information.
Text message hoaxes may claim that the government will order a mandatory national two-week quarantine, or instruct you to go out and stock up on supplies. The messages can appear to be from a "next door neighbor." The National Security Council tweeted that these are fake.
Scammers are also using robocalls to target consumers during this national emergency.
For example, the World Health Organization recently issued a warning about criminals seeking to take advantage of the pandemic to steal money or sensitive personal information from consumers. It urges people to be wary of phone calls and text messages that purport to be from the WHO, or charity organizations, asking for account information or for money.
The FCC has received reports of robocalls purporting to offer free virus test kits, in an effort to collect consumers' personal and health insurance information. One pernicious version of this scam is targeting higher risk individuals with diabetes, offering a free COVID-19 testing kit along with a free diabetic monitor. Other robocalls are marketing fake cures and asking for payment over the phone.
The Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Food & Drug Administration have posted consumer warnings about fake websites and phishing emails used to promote bogus products.
Opportunists are also making robocalls to offer HVAC duct cleaning as a way to "protect" your home and family from the virus.
Finally, there have been news reports about possible government issued checks being sent to consumers. If that happens, sort byno one will call or text you to verify your personal information or bank account details in order to "release" the funds.
If you think you've been a victim of a coronavirus scam, contact law enforcement immediately.
The FCC offers the following tips to help you protect yourself from scams, including coronavirus scams:
- Do not respond to calls or texts from unknown numbers, or any others that appear suspicious.
- Never share your personal or financial information via email, text messages, or over the phone.
- Be cautious if you’re being pressured to share any information or make a payment immediately.
- Scammers often spoof phone numbers to trick you into answering or responding. Remember that government agencies will never call you to ask for personal information or money.
- Do not click any links in a text message. If a friend sends you a text with a suspicious link that seems out of character, call them to make sure they weren't hacked.
- Always check on a charity (for example, by calling or looking at its actual website) before donating. (Learn more about charity scams.)
For more information about scam calls and texts, visit the FCC Consumer Help Center and the FCC Scam Glossary. You can also file a complaint about such scams at fcc.gov/complaints.
Avoiding Coronavirus stimulus payment scams
Scammers are using these stimulus payments to try to rip people off. They might try to get you to pay a fee to get your stimulus payment. Or they might try to convince you to give them your Social Security number, bank account, or government benefits debit card account number.
4 tips for avoiding a Coronavirus stimulus payment scam
- Only use irs.gov/coronavirus to submit information to the IRS – and never in response to a call, text, or email.
- The IRS won’t contact you by phone, email, text message, or social media with information about your stimulus payment, or to ask you for your Social Security number, bank account, or government benefits debit card account number. Anyone who does is a scammer phishing for your information.
- You don’t have to pay to get your stimulus money.
- The IRS won’t tell you to deposit your stimulus check then send them money back because they paid you more than they owed you. That’s a fake check scam.
Report scams to the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov/complaint.
Check this page often for updates on COVID-19 related scams.
*Source of all information: FCC
U.S. Secret Service: “Massive Fraud” Against State Unemployment Insurance Programs*
May 16, 2020
A well-organized Nigerian crime ring is exploiting the COVID-19 crisis by committing large-scale fraud against multiple state unemployment insurance programs, with potential losses in the hundreds of millions of dollars, according to a new alert issued by the U.S. Secret Service.
A memo seen by KrebsOnSecurity that the Secret Service circulated to field offices around the United States on Thursday says the ring has been filing unemployment claims in different states using Social Security numbers and other personally identifiable information (PII) belonging to identity theft victims, and that “a substantial amount of the fraudulent benefits submitted have used PII from first responders, government personnel and school employees.”
“It is assumed the fraud ring behind this possesses a substantial PII database to submit the volume of applications observed thus far,” the Secret Service warned. “The primary state targeted so far is Washington, although there is also evidence of attacks in North Carolina, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Oklahoma, Wyoming and Florida.”
The Secret Service said the fraud network is believed to consist of hundred of “mules,” a term used to describe willing or unwitting individuals who are recruited to help launder the proceeds of fraudulent financial transactions.
“In the state of Washington, individuals residing out-of-state are receiving multiple ACH deposits from the State of Washington Unemployment Benefits Program, all in different individuals’ names with no connection to the account holder,” the notice continues.
The Service’s memo suggests the crime ring is operating in much the same way as crooks who specialize in filing fraudulent income tax refund requests with the states and the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS), a perennial problem that costs the states and the U.S. Treasury hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue each year.
In those schemes, the scammers typically recruit people — often victims of online romance scams or those who also are out of work and looking for any source of income — to receive direct deposits from the fraudulent transactions, and then forward the bulk of the illicit funds to the perpetrators.
A federal fraud investigator who spoke with KrebsOnSecurity on condition of anonymity said many states simply don’t have enough controls in place to detect patterns that might help better screen out fraudulent unemployment applications, such as looking for multiple applications involving the same Internet addresses and/or bank accounts. The investigator said in some states fraudsters need only to submit someone’s name, Social Security number and other basic information for their claims to be processed.
Elaine Dodd, executive vice president of the fraud division at the Oklahoma Bankers Association, said financial institutions in her state earlier this week started seeing a flood of high-dollar transfers tied to employment claims filed for people in Washington, with many transfers in the $9,000 to $20,000 range.
“It’s been unbelievable to see the huge number of bogus filings here, and in such large amounts,” Dodd said, noting that one fraudulent claim sent to a mule in Oklahoma was for more than $29,000. “I’m proud of our bankers because they’ve managed to stop a lot of these transfers, but some are already gone. Most mules seem to have [been involved in] romance scams.”
While it might seem strange that people in Washington would be asking to receive their benefits via ACH deposits at a bank in Oklahoma, Dodd said the people involved seem to have a ready answer if anyone asks: One common refrain is that the claimants live in Washington but were riding out the Coronavirus pandemic while staying with family in Oklahoma.
The Secret Service alert follows news reports by media outlets in Washington and Rhode Island about millions of dollars in fraudulent unemployment claims in those states. On Thursday, The Seattle Times reported that the activity had halted unemployment payments for two days after officials found more than $1.6 million in phony claims.
“Between March and April, the number of fraudulent claims for unemployment benefits jumped 27-fold to 700,” the state Employment Security Department (ESD) told The Seattle Times. The story noted that the ESD’s fraud hotline has been inundated with calls, and received so many emails last weekend that it temporarily shut down.
WPRI in Rhode Island reported on May 4 that the state’s Department of Labor and Training has received hundreds of complaints of unemployment insurance fraud, and that “the number of purportedly fraudulent accounts is keeping pace with the unprecedented number of legitimate claims for unemployment insurance.”
The surge in fraud comes as many states are struggling to process an avalanche of jobless claims filed as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic. The U.S. government reported Thursday that nearly three million people filed unemployment claims last week, bringing the total over the last two months to more than 36 million. The Treasury Department says unemployment programs delivered $48 billion in payments in April alone.
A few of the states listed as key targets of this fraud ring are experiencing some of the highest levels of unemployment claims in the country. Washington has seen nearly a million unemployment claims, with almost 30 percent of its workforce currently jobless, according to figures released by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Rhode Island is even worse off, with 31.4 percent of its workforce filing for unemployment, the Chamber found.
Dodd said she recently heard from an FBI agent who was aware of a company in Oklahoma that has seven employees and has received notices of claims on several hundred persons obviously not employed there.
“Oklahoma will likely be seeing the same thing,” she said. “There must be other states that are getting filings on behalf of Oklahomans.”
Indeed, the Secret Service says this scam is likely to affect all states that don’t take additional steps to weed out fraudulent filings.
“The banks targeted have been at all levels including local banks, credit unions, and large national banks,” the Secret Service alert concluded. “It is extremely likely every state is vulnerable to this scheme and will be targeted if they have not been already.”
*Source of all information: KrebsonSecurity
Is a Scammer Getting Unemployment Benefits in Your Name?
June 3, 2020
by Seena Gressin
Attorney, Division of Consumer & Business Education, FTC
In a large-scale scam erupting in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, imposters are filing claims for unemployment benefits, using the names and personal information of people who have not filed claims. People learn about the fraud when they get a notice from their state unemployment benefits office or their employer about their supposed application for benefits.
If this happens to you, it means someone is misusing your personal information, including your Social Security number and date of birth. Act fast. Here are steps that can help you protect your finances and your credit:
- Report the fraud to your employer. Keep a record of who you spoke with and when.
- Report the fraud to your state unemployment benefits agency. You can find state agencies here.
- If possible, report the fraud online. An online report will save you time and be easier for the agency to process.
- Keep any confirmation or case number you get. If you speak with anyone, keep a record of who you spoke with and when.
- Visit IdentityTheft.gov to report the fraud to the FTC and get help with the next important recovery steps. These include placing a free, one-year fraud alert on your credit, getting your free credit reports, and closing any fraudulent accounts opened in your name. IdentityTheft.gov also will help you add a free extended fraud alert or credit freeze to your credit report. These make it more difficult for an identity thief to open new accounts in your name.
- Review your credit reports often. For the next year, you can check your reports every week for free through AnnualCreditReport.com. This can help you spot any new fraud quickly.
One other thing: The unemployment payments usually are deposited to accounts the imposters control. But sometimes payments get sent to the real person’s account, instead. If this happens to you, the imposters may call, text, or email to try to get you to send some or all of the money to them. They may pretend to be your state unemployment agency and say the money was sent by mistake. This a money mule scam and participating in one could cause you more difficulties.
If you get benefits you never applied for, report it to your state unemployment agency and ask for instructions. Don’t respond to any calls, emails, or text messages telling you to wire money, send cash, or put money on gift cards. Your state agency will never tell you to repay money that way. Anyone who tells you to do those things is a scammer. Every time.
*Source of all information: FTC Consumer Information
FREE WEEKLY CREDIT REPORTS
During these times of COVID-19, accessing your credit is important. That's why Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion are now offering FREE WEEKLY ONLINE CREDIT REPORTS to consumers via annualcreditreport.com through April 2021.
To obtain your FREE WEEKLY CREDIT REPORT, select the link below: