The response from federal, state, and local government agencies and organizations to support the economy during the pandemic created fertile ground for scammers. With tens of millions of newly jobless or furloughed Americans filing for unemployment benefits and the federal government paying individual stimulus checks to avert further economic crisis, criminals have been making a fortune.
The federal government’s stimulus program has created a lucrative opportunity for scammers to siphon money from their victims--often people in dire need of assistance.
"Americans with questions about how and when they’ll receive the checks will be more susceptible to scammers using robocalls, phishing emails and fake texts," CyberScout founder and chairman Adam Levin says.
One widespread tactic has been to contact recipients posing as an employee of the Internal Revenue Service, and asking for financial information needed to process payment. Other scams include directing victims to fraudulent websites to submit information to the IRS, or telling victims that an initial payment is required in order to receive the stimulus payment.
“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,” warns the FTC.
A sophisticated fraud campaign has recently been uncovered and investigated by the Secret Service that may have netted tens of millions of dollars from state governments, money earmarked for the recently unemployed.
According to the agency, international criminals used personally identifying information to file fraudulent unemployment claims.
"Criminals will use stolen personally identifiable information... to file fraudulent state unemployment claims. Crooks will then use social engineering techniques to recruit unsuspecting individuals to launder illicitly obtained funds in order to conceal the identity, source and destination," said a spokesperson for the Secret Service.
While several states have been affected by the fraud campaign, Washington State has been the primary target. 400 of 2500 employees at a Washington university alone were targeted by fraudulent claims.
Job Listing Scams
While many scams specifically target remote employees during the Covid-19 pandemic, 30 million Americans who have filed for unemployment since mid-March have been actively targeted by fake job offers.
“Beware of work at home and mystery shopper ads. These are usually scams,” says Levin.
Victims are often contacted out of the blue and offered lucrative remote work positions, but are told they need to pay a fee for vetting or a background check, at which point they never hear from their new “employer” again.
In other cases, fake job offers are posted online by identity thieves looking for sensitive information that can be used to open new lines of credit in a victim’s name or deployed in other identity-related crimes.