The federal government shutdown is affecting hundreds of thousands of employees and their families, but other victims stand to be harmed as well. While the government and its agencies handle the employees and continued services for the duration, criminals have been busy contacting consumers with plausible shutdown-related scams.
One law enforcement agency has already alerted area residents to a Medicare scam related to the shutdown. Callers posing as government employees contact random citizens and claim their Medicare (and conceivably Medicaid as well) coverage will be suspended during the shutdown unless the would-be victim signs up to have their information submitted manually. Faced with losing healthcare and prescription coverage, it’s easy to see why someone might willingly hand over all of their personally identifiable information.
Another variation related to the shutdown involves zero-interest temporary loans to “help” federal employees weather the weeks ahead without a paycheck. It sounds like the ideal solution to a terrifying problem, right? Just receive the loan and pay back the funds when work resumes and any back pay arrives? Unfortunately, this isn’t a government program or even one that’s backed by any financial institution. It’s entirely the product of a scammer’s imagination; providing your personal data and your bank account information—presumably for the loan to be directly deposited—only makes you their next victim.
Yet another confirmed instance involves phishing emails that appear to come from your bank. The subject line may actually be very comforting, something about skipping payments during the shutdown, but that’s only to get you to open the email. Like most phishing emails, you’re directed to click the link to sign up for the free payment forgiveness offer, but the link can install harmful software on your computer, redirect to a fake website that steals your information, or worse.
It’s sickening to think that anyone would be so cruel as to steal from federal employees or Medicare recipients at a time like this, and worse, would use a frightening scenario such as the shutdown to steal from the public. Sadly, scammers love nothing more than a widespread crisis to lure their victims into their net.
There are some steps that consumers can take to protect themselves. Fortunately, these are not only useful during this shutdown, but rather are good habits to develop to keep yourself safe at all times:
1. Do not confirm your identifying information for anyone who contacts you.
No matter what excuse they give, refuse then take down their information. Then, using only a verified contact method, contact their business or agency yourself and find out what is wrong with your account.
2. The government will not call you out of the blue, regardless of what agency they work for.
If you receive a call from someone claiming to work for the government, it’s probably a scam.
3. The same applies to financial institutions.
Legitimate offers from a bank will arrive via postal mail and will never expect you to provide personal information to a caller or via email.
4. The best offense is always a strong defense.
Become “suspicious by nature” when anyone contacts you and wants your information or account access.
Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.