COVID-19 Brings Increases in Phishing and Other Financial Fraud Schemes

The economic uncertainty created by COVID-19 has unfortunately left many people more vulnerable than ever as criminals invent new ways to take advantage of them with a wide range of schemes to defraud others, take their money, steal their identity and more.

The FBI Financial Crimes Section reports that criminals are posing as government officials with offers of help for virus-related issues. They are using social media, emails, phone calls and even going door-to-door to convince people they need money to support costs of COVID testing, financial relief or medical equipment, all with the goal of collecting personal and bank account information. Criminals have told people the recent economic impact payment was too high and they need to return part of it, the payment required an “up front” fee and the individual has to provide PayPal account information in order to receive the payment.  

Scammers are also impersonating Social Security Administration personnel, telling SSA and SSI recipients that benefits will be suspended or reduced unless they provide specific personal information or send money by gift card, wire transfer, internet currency or in cash that is mailed to a random location.

One of the most prevalent scams related to COVID-19 concerns involves fraudster attempts to collect consumers’ personal information by impersonating a financial institution employee, and falsely claiming there are security issues related to a recent account transaction. For example:

  • Consumer receives a text message falsely claiming to be from their FI regarding a fictional recent debit card charge and asks the consumer to verify the transaction.
  • Consumer replies they don't recognize the charge in question.
  • A supposed FI employee then calls the customer from what appears to be the FI’s phone number asking them to verify account information, including Social Security Number, online banking credentials, debit card and PIN numbers and a texted verification code.
  • If the consumer provides the information, then the fraudster immediately initiates account changes, sends money to co-conspirators and even applies for loans in the consumer's name.

The Paycheck Protection Program has not been immune to scams, either. Criminals targeted small business owners, claiming they could guarantee PPP loan approval for a fee, or offering to complete PPP loan applications as a way to steal business and owners’ personal and financial information. 

Sources: CFPB, FBI, FTC

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