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Right now is a very difficult time for a lot of individuals as concerns around the COVID-19 pandemic continue to be at the top of people’s minds. In addition to the inconvenience of social distancing and isolation and the very real fears for personal health and safety, many people are also facing the stress of reduced hours at work, being furloughed or losing their jobs due to quarantine and business closures.

There is another equally upsetting issue at hand: unemployment benefits identity theft. A record-setting 57+ million people in the U.S. filed for unemployment due to COVID-19 between March and September of 2020.

Unemployment benefits identity theft has hit states hard all over the country

While the California Employment Development Department (EDD) reports that employers added 114,400 nonfarm payroll jobs in July 2021, the unemployment rate for the state remains at 7.6 percent. In September 2020, the California EDD put out an alert asking California residents to keep an eye out for fraudulent activity in regards to unemployment benefits in the state.

According to the Los Angeles Times, as of January 26, 2021, California officials say unemployment fraud has totals of more than $11 billion. California has paid out $114 billion in unemployment benefits since March 2020, and the state EDD has processed 19 million claims.

Some residents of West Virginia are receiving unemployment benefit cards they never requested.

The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment says the state has seen nearly 10,000 fake claims. The identity thieves are believed to be just as busy with the filing, too. Many victims have contacted the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) over complaints of unemployment benefits identity theft.

Unemployment benefits identity theft is nothing new

Unemployment benefits identity theft is nothing new. In fact, it is one of many types of government identity theft that can occur when a scammer uses stolen personally identifiable information to apply for benefits through the government. However, with so many consumers filing at the same time, an unfortunate number of people have already reported that a scammer beat them to it. Their claims have been rejected for being duplicate applications while someone else is now set up to receive their benefits.

Like many forms of identity theft, unemployment benefits identity theft is one that victims may not discover until the damage is done. If a claim is turned down for unemployment benefits due to a duplicate application, it is important for people to contact the unemployment agency immediately; the ITRC is another resource to guide victims in this challenge (888.400.5530). In the meantime, there are other ways consumers should take action if their claims are rejected:

Place a freeze on your credit report if it’s feasible

Victims might need to open a new line of credit while they are out of work, but that shouldn’t stop them from placing a freeze. Thawing a credit freeze is extremely simple and quick. This can help block an identity thief who may have their personally identifiable information (since they applied for unemployment benefits in their name) from using it for other purposes.

Monitor accounts carefully

Once again, if a thief has enough information to apply for benefits, they could have access to other information or accounts. Consumers should keep a careful watch on all of their accounts, including their credit reports, and change any online passwords.

Be aware that applying for unemployment is only one step

An identity thief may also fraudulently apply for nutrition assistance, WIC, medical coverage or other benefits. If there are any issues involving those services and someone’s identity, people should contact those agencies immediately.

It is a stressful time for many, and scammers are looking to add to it in many different ways, including unemployment benefits identity theft. It’s also exceptionally difficult given the volume of calls and reduction in services from organizations that a victim needs to contact.

However, the ITRC is here for anyone who falls victim to government identity theft. Victims can also live-chat with an expert advisor or download the ID Theft Help App that will allow them to track their steps in a case log, and get on-the-go assistance.

The post was originally published on 4/10/2020 and was updated on 9/15/2021

  • Criminals claiming to be with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) are targeting people with emails as taxpayers continue to receive the third round of Economic Impact Payments (EIP) that began in March 2021.
  • Identity criminals send messages claiming you can receive an EIP Payment. They say the IRS is sending payments each week to qualified individuals as they continue to process tax returns.
  • However, messages like these are IRS scams seeking your personal and financial information to commit identity theft and fraud.
  • The IRS will never email, text, call or send a message on social media to anyone. If you receive a message claiming to be from the IRS, ignore it. You are also encouraged to forward it to the IRS at phishing@irs.gov and note that it seems to be a phishing scam seeking your personal information.
  • To learn more, or if you believe you have received IRS scams by email, contact the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) toll-free by phone (888.400.5530) or live-chat at www.idtheftcenter.org to speak with an expert advisor.

The third round of Economic Impact Payments (EIP) from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) began to go out in March 2021. However, the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) continues to receive messages about IRS scams by email, like the one below.

According to an official IRS notice, the Service is still sending EIP Payments weekly as 2020 tax returns are processed. Criminals have been striking with scams since the first stimulus package was passed in 2020. While many EIP Payments have been received, you should beware of scams asking for payment to receive compensation and remember that the IRS will never call, message or email anyone.

Who are the Targets?

U.S. Taxpayers

What is the Scam?

In the latest IRS scams by email, identity criminals send emails to inboxes claiming that they are eligible to receive a payment after the last annual calculation of their “fiscal activity.” The email goes on to say that each week the IRS will continue to send the third EIP Payments to eligible individuals as they process tax returns. The phishing emails also include a button to “claim my payment.”

What They Want

Scammers want you to either respond or click on a malicious link so they can steal your personal and financial information to commit different forms of identity crimes, including financial identity theft.

How to Avoid Being Scammed

  • Ignore emails, texts or social media messages claiming to be from the IRS. Do not respond to the messages or click on any links or attachments because they could be malicious. Acting on the IRS scams by email, text or social media could lead to having your information stolen. The IRS will not email or message anyone. Do not share any personal information, including credit card and bank account numbers, except on the official www.IRS.gov website or the representative you contacted by calling the IRS.
  • Ignore calls claiming to be from the IRS. While IRS scams by email continue to circulate, identity criminals could call you, too. If you receive an unsolicited call claiming to be from the IRS, ignore it. The IRS will not call anyone unsolicited, either.
  • Send phishing emails to the IRS. The IRS asks anyone who receives a phony email to forward it to phishing@irs.gov and note that it seems to be a phishing scam seeking your information.
  • Report the identity crime. You can report any identity fraud to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) by visiting www.IdentityTheft.gov.

If you have received IRS scams by email, text message, social media or by phone, you can also contact the ITRC toll-free by calling 888.400.5530 or using the live-chat function at www.idtheftcenter.org. ITRC expert advisors will help you create a resolution plan with the steps you need to take.

  • President Joseph R. Biden signed an executive order extending a pause on student loan payments to January 31, 2022. However, some borrowers are already reporting a rise in student loan forgiveness scams where people pose as loan providers that can help pay off student loans.
  • Identity thieves ask for information like Social Security numbers (SSNs), federal student aid I.D.s, bank account information and credit card information to commit different forms of identity theft and fraud.
  • Some loan forgiveness solicitations are not attempts to steal your information. However, they are designed to steer you into high-cost loan repayment programs with high interest rates or fees.
  • Be skeptical of anyone who calls or emails you offering to pay off your student loans. Call your loan provider to see if the message was legitimate, and do research on the loan provider the caller claims to represent.  
  • If you fall victim to an identity scam, call your bank or credit card provider to stop payments or close your accounts. Also, contact your loan servicer so they can monitor your account. Finally, check your credit report for any suspicious activity and strongly consider freezing your credit.
  • To learn more about student loan forgiveness scams, or to create a resolution plan, contact the Identity Theft Resource Center toll-free by phone (888.400.5530) or live-chat on the company website www.idtheftcenter.org.

Student loan forgiveness scams have been around for a long time. However, they have spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic. President Joseph R. Biden recently issued an executive order extending student loan relief until January 31, 2022. While the extension is welcome news to many borrowers, it also means student loan forgiveness scams will continue for the foreseeable future. CNBC reports an uptick in student loan forgiveness scams. The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) has also received inquiries about the scams, like the one below:

While the voicemail might not be a scam, people who receive voicemails like these should use caution. The same advice applies to emails received about student loans resuming, especially if the sender claims to be from a loan provider that was not used to take out the loan. COVID-19 has given criminals and unethical loan processors more ways to take advantage of people who have been hurt financially over the last year and a half. It could be a scammer looking to exploit the pause in payments due to COVID-19, and any potential confusion it brings.

Who are the Targets?

Former and current college students who are paying off student loans

What is the Scam?

Identity thieves call or email people with student loans claiming to be a loan provider or the U.S. Department of Education. They offer to reduce and help pay off monthly payments. Scammers ask for all sorts of personally identifiable information (PII) over the phone so that they can commit different forms of identity crimes like account takeover.

However, not all of the unsolicited student loan calls and emails are identity scams. Some are reported to be attempts to steer borrowers into repayment programs with high fees and high interest rates.

What They Want

Criminals ask for PII like Social Security numbers (SSNs), federal student aid I.D.s, credit card information and bank account information to commit identity theft. Unethical loan processors attempt to enroll borrowers in high-cost loan repayment programs.

How to Avoid Being Scammed

  • To avoid student loan forgiveness scams, be skeptical of anyone who calls you to help you pay off your student loans. Google the name of the loan provider the caller claims to be working for and see if there are any complaints. Also, if you have any doubts, contact your loan provider directly about the inquiry.
  • Look for the name of the program that is being offered to you. CNBC says, in some scams, criminals have claimed they are part of “Biden loan forgiveness” or “CARES Act loan forgiveness,” two programs that do not exist.
  • If you receive an email about student loan forgiveness, check the sender’s email address to make sure the email is coming from an address that ends in .gov.
  • If you provide a scammer with bank account or credit card information, call your bank or credit card provider to stop the payments immediately, and close your accounts if needed. It’s also a good idea to contact your student loan servicer, especially if you provided information such as your federal student aid I.D., so they can monitor your account, and check your credit report for suspicious activity. The ITRC strongly recommends you also freeze your credit.
  • Finally, report the student loan forgiveness scams to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at www.IdentityTheft.gov.

To learn more about student loan forgiveness scams, or if you believe you were the victim of a scam, contact the ITRC toll-free by calling 888.400.5530. You can also visit the company website to live-chat with an expert advisor. Go to www.idtheftcenter.org to get started.  

  • Businesses are re-hiring team members after COVID-19 lockdowns. However, the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) is also seeing a rise in online job scams, particularly mystery shopper scams. The ITRC has seen a 250 percent increase in mystery shopper scams from June to July.
  • Job scams are not uncommon. According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), 16,012 people reported being victims of employment scams in 2020, with losses totaling more than $59 million.
  • Law enforcement agencies across the country are also seeing the rise. The St. Martin Parish Sheriff’s Office in Louisiana is asking its citizens to be on the lookout for online job scams. The FBI wants people to watch for fake job listings.
  • To avoid a job scam, only use a reputable website for employment opportunities, be careful how much personal information you share and don’t pay upfront costs.
  • To learn more about online job scams, contact the ITRC toll-free by phone (888.400.5530) or live-chat by visiting www.idtheftcenter.org.

With many people vaccinated for COVID-19, most businesses are reopening and rehiring team members. Criminals are also looking to take advantage of the surge in hiring. The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) has seen a rise in the number of online job scam reports to its contact center, particularly mystery shopper scams. In fact, the ITRC has seen a 250 percent increase in mystery shopper scams from June 2021 to July 2021.

The ITRC is not the only organization to see the job scam uptick. The St. Martin Parish Sheriff’s Office in Louisiana is urging its citizens to be on the lookout for online job scams. The FBI wants people to keep an eye out for fake job listings.

Work-From-Home Job Scams

While vaccinations are on the rise, the pandemic is still ongoing, meaning many people are still looking for jobs where they can work from their homes. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), criminals are aware of this and are posting the “perfect” work-from-home jobs, claiming you can be your own boss and set your schedule. They claim you can make a lot of money in a short amount of time and with little effort.

Mystery Shopper Scams

Mystery shopping has been around for a long time. Mystery shoppers help businesses, retailers and restaurants get information on the quality of their stores in exchange for money. In the past, scammers have found ways to turn the service into a mystery shopper scam, also known as a secret shopper scam. The ITRC saw a spike in 2020, and is seeing a rise again. There are different forms of mystery shopping scams. Click here to learn more.

Tips to Avoid an Online Job Scam

According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), 16,012 people reported being victims of employment scams in 2020, with losses totaling more than $59 million. While you are looking for the right job, there are a few things to remember:

  • Know the source of the job listing and only use reputable websites to find employment opportunities. This will require you to do some research. Look online for independent sources of information. While the company’s website or advertisement may show testimonials or reviews from satisfied employees, they could still be fake. Instead, you should search the name of the company or the person who’s hiring you and add a word like “scam,” “review” or “complaint.” Searching for “Acme Co Scams” will give you search results that show if the company is legitimate and if it has been associated with fraud. You will often see what other employees and customers think of the would-be employer.
  • If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Be mindful of unsolicited emails and offers with outrageous claims, such as “Earn $3,000 a week working from home.”
  • Once you find a job posting, be careful how much personal information you share, at least during the application period. If a company claims they want to do a phone, Skype or Zoom interview due to social distancing and safety, that’s okay. However, it does not mean you should turn over sensitive personal information like your Social Security number (SSN) until you have been given a job offer contingent on passing a background check (which requires an SSN). Also, before you accept an offer or send a potential employer your personal information, run the job offer or posting by someone you trust.
  • Legitimate jobs don’t usually require any upfront fees or costs. Even things like company uniforms or specialized equipment like steel-toed shoes are often deducted from the first paycheck or purchased by the employee through an outside company. Typically, a form of payment is not requested. If an employer asks for a finder’s fee, administrative fee, background check fee or other funds, it is probably a scam. Even for legitimate actions like submitting a bank account number and routing number for direct depositing of paychecks, it’s vital to ensure the company is legitimate and the job has already been awarded before submitting the information. Also, don’t pay for the promise of a job. Only scammers will ask you to pay to get a job.
  • Don’t send money to your new boss. If a potential employer or new boss sends you a check, asks you to deposit it and then buy gift cards, it is a scam. While the check may look like it cleared and the funds look available in your account, the check is still fake and you will be responsible for any purchases.
  • Never pay to be a mystery shopper. Don’t wire money or send a “deposit” via PayPal, Venmo or Zelle. Also, to avoid a mystery shopper scam, cash the check at an issuing bank or wait until the money has not just posted but cleared the other account. If the check is not good, the victim can return the cash into their account.

Contact the ITRC

There are many different job scams, particularly online job scams. If you have questions, want to learn more or if you believe you were the victim of an online job scam, contact us. You can speak with an expert advisor by phone (888.400.5530) or live-chat. Just visit www.idtheftcenter.org to get started.

The post was originally published on 6/30/21 and was updated on 7/21/21

SentiLink talks with the ITRC in the newest Fraudian Slip podcast about the unprecedented levels of identity fraud as people have applied for government benefits during COVID-19 

  • For the first time since the reports of unemployment identity fraud began to spike in March 2020, the number of cases has steadily declined. So have the number of fraudulent stimulus cases linked to identity fraud. 
  • However, June was the month the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) saw 2021’s unemployment identity fraud numbers surpass all of 2020.  
  • The ITRC sat down with supporter SentiLink, a company that helps businesses reduce identity-related fraud, to discuss COVID-19 fraud, what we learned, emerging threats and much more. Listen to this week’s episode of The Fraudian Slip
  • You can learn more about unemployment identity fraud and other topics discussed in the podcast, and how to protect yourself from identity crimes by visiting the ITRC’s website
  • If you think you are the victim of an identity crime or your identity has been compromised, you can call us, chat live online, send an email or leave a voicemail for an expert advisor to get advice on how to respond. Just visit www.idtheftcenter.org to get started.   

Welcome to The Fraudian Slip, the Identity Theft Resource Center’s (ITRC) podcast, where we talk about all-things identity compromise, crime and fraud that impact people and businesses. Listen on Apple, Google, Spotify, SoundCloud, or Podsite now.

This month, July, we will look deeper into an issue that has dominated news headlines – unemployment identity fraud – and frustrated hundreds of thousands of identity crime victims. We are talking about the unprecedented levels of identity fraud that we have seen during the pandemic as people applied for various government benefits – ranging from unemployment benefits to small business loans.  

Let’s start with some good news. For the first time since reports of unemployment identity fraud emerged in early 2020, the number of fraud cases began a steady decline in May. The number of fraudulent stimulus cases linked to identity fraud and small business administration loans also drops a little each month. Ironically, June was the month when the number of unemployment identity fraud cases reported to the ITRC in 2021 surpassed all of 2020. 

The ITRC has talked a lot on earlier episodes of this podcast about how the unemployment identity fraud occurred and the impact on people denied benefits as a result. However, we have not focused much on what we have learned about what happened after the money was stolen. Where did it go? What other actions can we take now to prevent more fraud in the future based on what we have learned? 

Helping us explore the murky world of identity fraud is Eva Velasquez, president and CEO of the ITRC, and Naftali Harris, Co-Founder and CEO of SentiLink, a company that helps businesses reduce identity-related fraud.   

We talked with Naftali Harris about the following: 

  • What SentiLink does. 
  • What happened to the money lost, and what we have learned from the pandemic fraud. 
  • Friction in transactions – positive and negative.  
  • Any potential emerging threats. 

We talked with Eva Velasquez about the following: 

  • The impacts of identity fraud and the denial of benefits. 
  • Friction in transactions – positive and negative. 
  • What consumers can do to prevent/mitigate identity fraud now. 

You can learn more about unemployment identity fraud as well as get help if you have been the victim of an identity crime by visiting the ITRC’s website at www.idtheftcenter.org. While you are there, sign up for our emails that alert you to the latest scamsmonthly data breach updatesand tips to protect your identity.  

Be sure and join us next week for our Weekly Breach Breakdown podcast and next month for another episode of The Fraudian Slip.  

ITRC thanks SentiLink for supporting our podcast.

  • Multiple states including California, Florida, Colorado and more, are offering lottery & sweepstakes incentive programs for COVID-19 vaccine recipients but scammers are taking advantage of the eager consumers. 
  • Scammers are posing as government officials and informing vaccine recipients they have won a lottery and follow-through by asking for bank details and Social Security numbers. 
  • To avoid these scams, be on alert for anyone asking for banking and personal information that can lead to financial identity theft. 
  • If anyone believes they are a victim of a COVID-19 lottery or sweepstakes scam, they can contact the ITRC toll-free by phone (888.400.5530) or live-chat. Just go to www.idtheftcenter.org to get started.  

Millions of U.S. residents have already received their COVID-19 vaccine and are automatically entered into their state’s lottery or sweepstakes program, which scammers are cashing in on as well. For example, California residents are reporting  COVID-19 vaccine scams where criminals pose as government officials with fake notifications claiming they have won the lottery. The scammer then asks for personal or banking data to claim their prize. 

Who are the Targets? 

Residents of states with lotteries or other vaccination incentives; vaccine recipients 

What is the Scam? 

Criminals are posing as government officials and informing vaccine recipients they have won the lottery and ask for bank details and Social Security numbers.   

What They Want 

Scammers can use your banking information from these COVID-19 vaccine lottery scams to commit financial identity theft or sell your information to other cybercriminals. They are also looking to collect “lottery fees” upfront. Remember, you should never pay money to receive money especially in a contest, sweepstakes or lottery. 

How to Avoid Being Scammed 

  • California and Colorado state residents 18 and older who receive the vaccine are automatically entered to win based on shot registration information and do not need to enter. However, Kentucky and Oregon residents must enter through the official website. Be sure to check with your state’s program on entering rules. 
  • If you are a lottery winner, you do not need to pay money or provide your banking information to claim your prize. 
  • Always go directly to the source to verify if the information is coming from a legitimate source. In this case, check with the Department of Public Health or lottery authority in your state. 
  • If you’ve received a phishing email, text or phone call, report it. You can report it to the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov/complaint.  

If anyone believes they are a victim of a COVID-19 lottery or sweepstakes scam, they can contact the ITRC toll-free by phone (888.400.5530) or live-chat. Just go to www.idtheftcenter.org to get started.

  • The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland, working with the Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Baltimore, recently seized the fake COVID-19 vaccine website “Freevaccinecovax.org.”
  • The website collected personal information from people who visited it by asking them to download a PDF file to their device to apply for more information.
  • Interacting on a malicious website offering COVID-19 vaccines could lead to an array of identity crimes, including a phishing attack, malware attack and different forms of social engineering.
  • COVID-19 vaccines are not being sold online. Any link that claims to take someone to a website to purchase one is fake. To find a vaccine appointment online, people should go through their local department of health, pharmacy or health care provider.
  • For more information on fake COVID-19 vaccine websites, or if you believe you are a victim of a COVID-19 vaccine scam, contact the Identity Theft Resource Center toll-free by phone (888.400.5530) or live-chat on the website www.idtheftcenter.org.

Federal officials shut down a fake COVID-19 vaccine website after discovering the website was stealing people’s personal information for cybercriminal activity. According to Threatpost, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland, working with Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Baltimore, seized “Freevaccinecovax.org,” “which purported to be the website of a biotechnology company developing a vaccine for the COVID-19 virus,” according to a news release on the office’s website.

Since the U.S. began administering the COVID-19 vaccines, cybercriminals have tried to take advantage of consumer’s desire for vaccinations. According to NBC 4 Washington, BrandShield, a global cybersecurity firm protecting some of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies from cyberthreats, found a 4,200 percent increase in potentially fraudulent COVID-19 vaccine websites from January 2020 through the end of February 2021. The news of the latest malicious website highlights the importance of being cautious with COVID-19 vaccine websites and how to use them.

Who are the Targets?

People looking to receive the COVID-19 vaccine

What is the Scam?

Threat actors created “Freevaccinecovax.org” to collect personal information from people who visited the website to commit identity crimes like fraud, phishing attacks or to deploy malware. Threatpost says the fake COVID-19 vaccine website used trademarked logos for Pfizer, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on its homepage to trick people into believing it was a legitimate site. The malicious website had a drop-down menu that asked users to apply for information by downloading a PDF file to their device.

What They Want

Identity criminals are after people’s personal information to commit phishing attacks, malware attacks, social engineering and other forms of identity-related fraud.

How to Avoid Being Scammed

To avoid a fake COVID-19 website:

  • Ignore websites trying to sell a vaccine. COVID-19 vaccines are not being sold online. Any link that claims to take you to a website to purchase one is fake.
  • Do not click on any posts or ads claiming to sell cures. Remember, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
  • If you are checking for a vaccine appointment online, make sure you do it through your local department of health, pharmacy or health care provider. Never follow a link randomly sent to you.

To learn more about COVID-19 vaccine scams, malicious websites, or if you believe you were on a fake COVID-19 vaccine website, contact the Identity Theft Resource Center toll-free by calling 888.400.5530. You can also visit the company website to live-chat with an expert advisor. Go to www.idtheftcenter.org to get started.  

  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reports that criminals are creating COVID-19 funeral scams. The announcement comes just days after the federal agency launched a new program to provide relief to the families of loved ones who died from COVID-19.
  • As part of the funeral scam, criminals contact people offering to register them for funeral assistance. Identity thieves are looking to steal money, as well as personal and financial information, to commit identity theft.
  • If you receive an unsolicited message offering to assist in registering for the program, you should contact FEMA directly. Also, you should never pay a fee or share personal information with anyone who sends an unsolicited message to obtain a government benefit on your behalf.
  • To report a funeral scam, call FEMA’s Helpline at 800.621.3362. To learn more, contact the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) toll-free by phone (888.400.5530) or live-chat at the company website www.idtheftcenter.org.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is doing what it can to help the families of loved ones who died from COVID-19. However, due to criminals, everyone needs to be on the lookout for COVID-19 funeral scams.

FEMA started a program in mid-April that offers up to $9,000 in relief to help families cover the funeral expenses for those who passed after June 20, 2020, from COVID-19. However, criminals have found a way to take advantage of the newest program.

FEMA has sounded the alarm with a fraud alert. They have received reports of scammers reaching out to people by phone, email, and online, offering to register them for funeral assistance. However, FEMA says that is not how the program works.

The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) has received more than 1,500 reports of identity fraud related to government benefits since the beginning of the pandemic.

Who are the Targets?

The families and friends of loved ones who died from COVID-19 who are applying for FEMA’s COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Program.

What is the Scam?

FEMA says criminals are contacting people and offering to register them for funeral assistance. However, the criminals are asking for “fees” and other options to “expedite the process” to register for funeral expenses.

According to FEMA, any efforts that charge fees to assist in the application process are scams. The application process begins when you call the agency’s Funeral Assistance Line at 844.684.6333. FEMA will not contact you about the program unless you have already contacted them.

What They Want

Scammers hope to make away with either money or you or your deceased loved one’s personal information to commit an identity crime in you or your loved one’s name.

How to Avoid Being Scammed

  • If someone contacts you about the assistance program and you did not either apply or call FEMA directly, ignore it because it is a COVID-19 funeral scam. FEMA will not reach out until you either call them or apply for assistance.
  • Do not pay a fee for quicker service because that is another sign of a funeral scam. The government will not ask you to pay anything to get the FEMA benefits.
  • Do not provide your own or your deceased loved one’s personal or financial information to anyone based on an unsolicited call, text message, or email claiming to come from FEMA or another federal agency.
  • If you received a COVID-19 funeral scam call or email, report it to the FEMA Helpline at 800.621.3362.

Contact the ITRC

If you believe you are a victim of the COVID-19 funeral scam, received a suspicious message and want to know if it is a funeral scam, or want to learn more, contact the ITRC toll-free. You can call (888.400.5530) or use the live-chat function on the company website. Just go to www.idtheftcenter.org to get started.   

  • As more people get the coronavirus vaccine, the level of COVID vaccine fraud could rise, particularly around vaccine passport and scheduling apps and vaccination cards.
  • Right now, there are no programs in the U.S. that use or require a vaccine passport app. If anyone receives a message about one, it is a scam trying to steal people’s credentials or get them to pay for a fake app or service.
  • There are apps to schedule a vaccine. However, an app that asks for money or personal health information (PHI) should raise a red flag.
  • Many people are posting pictures online of their vaccination cards once they’ve gotten the COVID shot. The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) does not recommend people post these photos unless they blur out their personal information to reduce identity risks.
  • If anyone wants to learn more about COVID vaccine fraud concerns or believes they have been the victim of a COVID vaccine scam, they can contact the ITRC toll-free by phone (888.400.5530) or live-chat. Just go to www.idtheftcenter.org to get started.

The number of Americans receiving the COVID vaccine is on the rise. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), well over 100 million vaccines have been administered, and more than 12 percent of Americans are fully vaccinated. States across the U.S. are moving beyond limited groups to vaccinate the general public, leading to concerns over COVID vaccine fraud. There are several different ways identity criminals could attack.

Vaccine Passport & Scheduling Apps

There are no current programs in the U.S. that use or require a vaccine passport. While the World Health Organization (WHO) says the race is on to develop a vaccine passport, any phone calls or messages to download a COVID vaccine passport app is a scam. However, there are apps for vaccine scheduling, like the CDC’s Vaccine Schedules app and other healthcare apps. With that said, any app that asks for money or personal health information (PHI) could be suspect. Fake apps often attempt to either steal someone’s credentials, get them to pay for the fraudulent app, or use a fraudulent vaccine scheduling service.

Vaccination Cards

Another COVID vaccine fraud concern involves COVID vaccine cards. By now, most people have probably seen at least one of their friends, family members or co-workers post a picture online of their COVID vaccination card. COVID vaccine cards have personal information (name, birth date and vaccination location) on them that people need to safeguard. Posting vaccine cards could help scammers create and sell phony vaccination cards or even hack accounts. The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) recommends people remove or block sensitive information before they post their cards online.

According to a Better Business Bureau (BBB) alert, there have been no reports of fake vaccination cards sold in the U.S. However, in Great Britain, scammers have already been caught selling phony vaccination cards on eBay and TikTok.

How to Avoid a COVID Vaccine Scam

COVID vaccine scams based around fake websites and vaccines have been around since nearly the beginning of the global pandemic. There is no reason to believe the trend will decline as more COVID vaccines are administered. Consumers should be aware of the COVID vaccine fraud attempts and take the following steps to protect themselves:

  • Do not download any apps that claim to be a vaccine passport.
  • Only schedule vaccination appointments through official websites, a local health authority, or your medical provider. Services requiring payment to schedule an appointment are a sign of fraud.
  • Do not post pictures of your vaccination card online unless the personal information is blocked or removed.
  • Only get vaccinated from a licensed medical provider.
  • Do not respond to any calls, emails or text messages about COVID vaccines that ask for your personal information. Also, don’t click on any links, attachments or files unless you initiated the contact. If in doubt, reach out to the entity directly to verify the validity of a message.

Contact the ITRC

For more information on COVID vaccine fraud concerns, or if someone believes they are the victim of a COVID vaccine scam, contact the ITRC toll-free by phone (888.400.5530) or live-chat. Visit our website for the latest news on COVID scams and other identity-related issues. All people have to do is go to www.idtheftcenter.org to get started.

  • The third round of stimulus payments is on the way. Scammers are aware, too, which means another round of scams as well.
  • Remember, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will not text, email or call anyone about a stimulus payment. If someone receives an unsolicited message from someone claiming to be with the IRS, it is probably a stimulus payment scam. Consumers should contact the IRS directly to verify before they respond. 
  • Offers that require people to pay to receive a stimulus benefit or to use a service to get a payment faster are also signs of a stimulus payment scam. 
  • Consumers can track their new stimulus checks once they are sent. Then can visit the IRS “Get My Payment” page to follow their payments.  
  •  To learn more about stimulus payment scams, the new stimulus payment or if someone suspects they are the victim of a stimulus scam, they can contact the Identity Theft Resource Center toll-free at 888.400.5530 or by live-chat on the company website.  

New Stimulus Payments Approved by Lawmakers 

Lawmakers voted to approve the third stimulus package since the coronavirus pandemic. The package includes a $1,400 stimulus payment for anyone who earns $75,000 or less (the payments start to phase out at $75,000), extends jobless aid supplement and programs making more people eligible for unemployment insurance, and much more. However, it could mean more stimulus payment scams.

Late in 2020, lawmakers agreed on a new stimulus package, which included a $600 stimulus payment for anyone who earned $75,000 or less. There was also a reduced payment for anyone who made $75,000-$99,000.

In the spring of 2020, the first batch of stimulus payments assisted Americans in need of financial relief due to the economic impacts of COVID-19. Criminals took advantage of the situation by offering to help benefit recipients speed access to their stimulus funds. Criminals stole checks from nursing home residents, out of people’s mailboxes, and even from postal trucks. The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) saw some of those methods used to steal identity information and stimulus payments the second time around, and expect to see it again. The ITRC has also had a sharp rise in reported stolen stimulus payments and stimulus payment scams cases.

As of March 10, 2021, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) had logged more than 382,000 consumer complaints related to COVID-19 and stimulus payments totaling more than $366 million in losses. Two-thirds of the complaints involved fraud or identity theft. The median fraud loss per person is $325.

New stimulus checks mean more scams are on the way. With more stimulus payment fraud expected, consumers should know how to spot a scam and what to do if an identity criminal contacts them.

Possible Stimulus Payment Scams 

According to the Washington Post, researchers recently discovered a campaign of thousands of emails that sought to trick Americans into filling out a phony form to “apply” for American Rescue Plan checks from the IRS before the third stimulus package was even passed by congress. The emails encouraged recipients to download an Excel sheet that launched malicious software that steals personal banking information and other login credentials once downloaded.

Criminals use different schemes to trick people, and they can be expected to do the same this time, as seen above. Here are a few things for people to watch for that indicate that someone might be the target of a stimulus payment scam:

  • Text messages and emails about stimulus payments – Criminals use text messages and emails to send malicious links in hopes that people will click on them to divulge personal information or insert malware onto someone’s device. If anyone receives a text message or email about a stimulus check or direct deposit with a link to click or a file to open, they should ignore it. It’s a scam because the IRS will not contact anyone unsolicited by text, email or phone to discuss a stimulus payment. 
  • Asked to verify financial information – The IRS will not call, text or email anyone to verify their information. If information needs to be confirmed, people will be directed to an IRS web page. This includes retirees who might not typically file a tax return.  
  • A fake check in the mail – Anyone who earns $75,000 or less will get $1,400. People who make between $75,000-$80,000 will receive a reduced amount. Anyone who gets a check and has questions about the amount, or thinks the check seems suspicious, should contact the IRS.
  • Offers for faster payments – Any claim offering payment faster through a third-party is a scam. All new stimulus checks will come from the IRS, and the IRS says there is no way to expedite a payment.  
  • Pay to get a check – No one has to pay to receive a stimulus check. New stimulus checks will be deposited directly into the same banking account used for previous stimulus payments or the most recent tax refund. If the IRS does not have someone’s direct deposit information, a check or prepaid card will be mailed to the last known address on file at the IRS.
  • Stolen checks – The ITRC has received numerous complaints from consumers about their stimulus checks being stolen. If anyone believes their payment is stolen, they should visit IDTheft.gov, where they can report, “Someone filed a Federal tax return – or claimed an economic stimulus payment – using my information.”

What to Do If You’re a Victim of Stimulus Payment Scams 

 If anyone believes their information may have been compromised or their stimulus payment was stolen, the IRS suggests people report it to the IRS and FTC simultaneously through IdentityTheft.gov. If anyone wants to learn more about stimulus payment scams or if someone believes they are the victim of a stimulus payment scam, they may also contact the Identity Theft Resource Center toll-free. Consumers can call (888.400.5530) or live-chat on the website. People can go to www.idtheftcenter.org to get started.

The post was originally published on 12/22/20 and was updated on 3/10/21