We often see a rise in scams and fraudulent activity during times of uncertainty. Unfortunately, COVID-19 is no exception, and criminals are exploiting the pandemic for their own personal gain. At Partners, we want to ensure that you are armed with the knowledge needed to combat such fraud, and hopefully help prevent you from being a victim.
Recently, Washington’s unemployment system was the target of a large-scale scam perpetrated by a Nigerian fraud ring. The imposters used stolen Social Security numbers and other personal data to create “authenticated” claims, and then set the preferences to their own phone, email, bank account, etc. Before the scam could be identified, the fraudsters made off with hundreds of millions of dollars. In many cases, the fraudsters tricked unwitting accomplices into using their personal bank accounts for the fraudulent unemployment benefits to be transferred into. Once there, the unwitting party would then be asked to send the money to the fraudsters. This is also sometimes called social engineering to recruit an unsuspecting “money mule.” Fraudsters accomplish this by gaining the trust of their victims by telling them false stories, like it was a work-from-home job, or that they are a member of the US armed forces stationed overseas who needs their money, or by perpetrating an old fashioned romance type scam. This is just one example of how criminals have capitalized on the chaos created by COVID-19.
Social Security is also a target. Some scammers are pretending to be from the Social Security Administration (SSA), so that they can get a hold of your Social Security number and your money. Be wary of any callers saying they are with Social Security, and don’t ever verify your Social Security number with someone who has called out of the blue. The SSA will never call you to threaten your benefits or suspend your account.
The same goes for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Never return a call from anyone who claims to be from the IRS. The IRS will never discuss personal tax issues through unsolicited phone calls, emails, texts, or over social media.
There are a variety of other COVID-19 phishing and robocall scams that have emerged since the Coronavirus outbreak, including charity scams. Make sure to verify all charities on the IRS tax exemption site before donating.
It is important to be aware and stay apprised of current trends when it comes to scams and fraud. It is also important to talk about it. If you have been exposed to a scam, chances are your family and friends have been, as well. Stay safe, everyone!
For more information on Coronavirus-related scams or to report a scam, please visit ftc.gov/coronavirus.