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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.

  • 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.

Updated 7/21/2021: 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.

  • 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.

  • According to ID.me Founder and CEO Blake Hall, the ultimate unemployment benefits fraud totals could be between $200-$300 billion for the last year.  
  • Hall also says that over 50 percent of the claims being paid on are fraudulent, individuals are applying with their own identity in multiple states, and that eligibility fraud is at 30 percent.  
  • To learn more, listen to this week’s episode of The Fraudian Slip.  
  • You can learn more about the identity-related crimes discussed in the podcast and how to protect yourself from identity fraud and compromises by visiting the ITRC’s website www.idtheftcenter.org
  • 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 voice mail for an expert advisor to get advice on how to respond. Just visit www.idtheftcenter.org to get started. 

Below is a transcript of our podcast with special guest Blake Hall, CEO of ID.me 

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. 

This month, March, we will explore one of the key issues at the root of the tsunami of fraudulent unemployment benefit claims prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The level of benefit fraud has gone from truly unprecedented to staggering. 

In mid-2020, the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Labor told Congress that stolen unemployment benefits could reach $26 billion. That was before the state of California warned benefit fraud had already exceeded $11 billion just in that state. This past weekend, officials now estimate the amount of fraud to be more than $60 billion.  

Our guest on this month’s podcast, ID.me Founder and CEO Blake Hall, predicts the ultimate unemployment benefits fraud totals will be between $200-$300 billion. He also says over 50 percent of the claims being paid on are fraudulent, individuals are applying with their own identity in multiple states, and that eligibility fraud is at 30 percent.  

This is just one piece of a bigger identity-related fraud puzzle. Complaints to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) about identity-related fraud more than doubled in 2020, with government credential and benefit fraud topping the list. 

What is the common denominator here? Automated and manual processes are used to prove we are who we say we are. I.D. verification and validation is a bedrock principle of our technology-driven world. Professional cybercriminals have largely figured out how to get around common identity proofing techniques.  

In some cases, well-meaning state officials even “pulled the goalie” last year by relaxing verification standards to help speed benefits to people impacted by the pandemic who desperately needed the help.  

There is good news to be found when it comes to identity verification. Private companies and government agencies are rapidly moving away from traditional I.D. proofing and to more modern, secure, and accurate ways of proving you are who you claim to be. 

We talked with ID.me CEO Blake Hall about the following: 

  • Traditional ways to verify identities, and how they failed in 2020 
  • State of the Art in I.D. verification 
  • What is next for I.D. verification in the age of privacy 

We also talked with ITRC CEO Eva Velasquez about the following: 

  • What happened in 2020 with identity-related fraud  
  • What individuals can do to protect themselves against identity-related fraud 
  • Resources available to help consumers protect themselves from identity-related fraud 

For answers to all of these questions, listen to this week’s episode of  The Fraudian Slip Podcast

  • Facebook and Instagram users are being targeted by cybercriminals promoting fake grants, particularly grants for COVID-19 relief. Recent grant scams reported to the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) include requests for gift cards to “pay the taxes” if the grant is approved. 
  • The messages come from cloned accounts or hacked profiles of one of the user’s real Facebook or Instagram friends.  
  • Anyone receiving a message about a grant via Facebook, Instagram, phone, or text message should report it.  
  • If anyone wants to learn more about the Facebook grant scam or believes they are a victim, they should contact the ITRC toll-free at 888.400.5530 or by live-chat. Just visit www.idtheftcenter.org to get started. 

While Facebook grant scams have been around for a while, the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) has seen a spike in calls and live-chats around this type of scam, particularly a new version that targets people in need of money due to hardships from the COVID-19 pandemic.  

The grant scam is not just circulating on Facebook. ITRC advisors have also received cases from victims who claim they were targeted on other social media platforms, including Instagram, owned by Facebook. 

Who is the Target 

Facebook users appear to be the primary target. However, other social media platforms like Instagram are beginning to see similar scams. The BBB reports that scammers are also creating versions of the Facebook grant scam to target people by phone and text message.   

What is the Scam 

Cybercriminals attack social media accounts or create lookalike accounts to target friends, family members, or other people trusted by the impacted account owner. Once the account has been compromised, the criminals message the friend telling them about a government grant. 

Some of the recent grant names the ITRC has seen are the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) grant, the RWCB grant, the Federal Government Empowerment grant and the Publisher’s Clearinghouse (PCH) Fee Government grant. The victims are then told to call a phone number about the grant and are asked to fill out a form that includes one’s Social Security number (SSN) and Driver’s License (DL) information before the grant is approved. The “friend” may claim they have already applied for the grant and received the funds. 

ITRC advisors say, right now, the most common reports of the Facebook grant scam evolve around phony grants for COVID-19 relief. The ITRC also continues to see Facebook grant scams where scammers ask for gift cards to “pay their taxes” associated with an approved grant. 

What They Want 

Scammers are looking to escape with the victim’s money, their personal information, or both to commit other identity crimes. 

How You Can Avoid Being Scammed 

  • If you receive a Facebook message from a friend regarding a grant opportunity, chances are it is a scam. Do not respond or provide any personal information. 
  • Inform your friend that their Facebook or Instagram account might be hacked or cloned. A big red flag is if you receive a new friend request from an existing friend and receive a direct or private message about a grant opportunity. 
  • Report the grant scam to FacebookInstagram, or other social media platforms where you receive the fraudulent grant message. Once you’ve reported the scam, delete the message. 
  • Never pay any money for a “free” government grant. A government entity will not ask you to pay a processing fee or taxes for a grant you were awarded, especially in a social media message. 

If you believe you are a victim of a Facebook grant scam or would like to learn more, contact the ITRC Center 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.   

  • Digital wallets, an electronic version of payment cards and accounts, and mobile payment apps have become more popular during the global pandemic. U.S. users jumped from 38 percent to 55 percent of smartphone owners in 2020 because they are more convenient and secure for many consumers. They also help serve an important population: the unbanked and underbanked
  • It can be difficult for some households (approximately 7.1 million) to get a bank account for an array of reasons. Digital wallets and mobile payment apps allow those households to make payments, store funds, transfer money to other financial accounts and even write checks depending on the app.  
  • Digital wallets and mobile payment apps can be less risky than traditional payment methods because there are security measures that are not available when someone pays with a physical card or cash. Because digital wallets are contactless, they also represent less of a health risk during the COVID-19 pandemic. 
  • To learn more about digital wallets, contact the Identity Theft Resource Center toll-free at 888.400.5530 or via live-chat on our website www.idtheftcenter.org.  

Digital wallets and mobile payment apps continue to grow in popularity. In fact, U.S. users jumped from 38 percent to 55 percent of smartphone owners. A digital wallet allows people to carry much of what they would have in their physical wallet on a mobile device. Payment apps are also surging in popularity. According to an article in Newsday, a recent survey sponsored by SimpleTexting, a Miami Beach provider of text messaging software, shows that 81 percent of those polled use cash apps more often since the COVID-19 pandemic. Digital wallets provide people with more payment options and allow them to convert physical cash to an online account to then link to these services, especially those who are unbanked and underbanked

Digital Wallet vs. Mobile Payment App 

A digital wallet is a virtual version of payment cards and financial accounts that can be accessed on a computer or smart device. Some popular digital wallets include ApplePay, Google Pay, Samsung Pay and PayPal. Mobile payment apps are tied to purchases made at a single business such as Starbucks or Walmart, or an app like Venmo that transfers cash to other people as payment. 

The Benefits and Risks of a Digital Wallet and Mobile Payment App 

Digital wallets and mobile payment apps allow people to simplify how they make payments and what they have to carry with them to purchase items. Both kinds of apps enable consumers to complete transactions without using cash while protecting financial account information and passwords. Digital wallets use security protocols, like two-factor authentication and one-time-use PIN numbers. They also use advanced encryption and virtualization techniques that ensure people’s financial information never leaves their actual device.   

However, that does not mean criminals will not target users. Keeping a device secure by using screen locks and device passwords/biometrics is vitally important, along with the ability to remotely disable a smart device if it’s lost or stolen. If a thief gains access to someone’s digital wallet, they may have the ability to make purchases or steal someone’s fundslike one person from Grosse Pointe Farms. There is still the risk of also being tricked into old-fashioned product or service fraud, too. Users of digital wallets and payment apps need to be cautious and only engage in a transaction if it’s part of a purchase or fund transfer they initiate. 

Digital Wallets and Mobile Payment Apps Help the Unbanked and Underbanked 

The FDIC Survey of Household Use of Banking and Financial Services found that in 2019 approximately 7.1 million U.S. households were unbanked, meaning no one in the home had a bank account. The number of unbanked and underbanked people (U.S. residents with limited access to banking services) is on the decline, and the increased use of digital wallets and payment apps is part of the trend.  

Digital wallets and mobile payment apps are a great answer and a more secure way of making financial transactions for those who cannot or do not want to access a bank’s services. It is safer, there are fewer fees and easier access. Unbanked and underbanked households can make payments, store funds, transfer money to other financial accounts, and even have bill pay (check writing) features depending on the app.  

Digital wallets and mobile payment apps can also improve financial inclusion by reducing people’s dependency on cash and decreasing risks associated with handling money, such as health concerns, fraud, theft, and loss. 

What People Should do to Stay Safe 

  • Enable all the security features like screen lock/biometric lock and Find my iPhone to keep hackers from accessing the digital wallet, payment apps as well as stealing login credentials or money. 
  • Use a strong password and good cyber hygiene/security practices on all accounts to reduce the risk of hacking. The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) encourages consumers to use a passphrase that is at least 12 characters long.  
  • Beware of phishing attacks because they could lead to a hacked account. Consumers should avoid unsolicited emails or text messages that ask the user to send money directly through a digital wallet or payment app. Criminals may send people an unsolicited payment request through a mobile app, so users should only use a digital wallet or mobile payment app if they initiate the transaction.  
  • Look for red flags like payments you did not make using your payment apps. If someone is victimized, they should report it to the app, change their account password and consider scanning their device with antivirus software. 

Contact the ITRC 

If anyone has questions about digital wallets, how to use them or how safe they are, they can contact the ITRC. Consumers can reach a live advisor for free by phone (888.400.5530) or live-chat and can get access to the ITRC’s latest information. All people have to do is visit www.idtheftcenter.org to get started. 

  • An Internal Revenue Service (IRS) text scam is circulating to get consumers’ personal information, which may put them at further risk of tax identity crimes. 
  • According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), imposter scams were the top reported fraud in 2020. The FTC had approximately 500,000 reports of the scam, leading to an estimated $1.2 billion in lost funds.  
  • People may receive text messages from their tax service but will never get a text message directly from the IRS. (People should still independently check with their filing service because scammers may also spoof tax filing entities.
  • If anyone receives a text claiming to be from the IRS, they should ignore it, not click on any links or attachments, forward the text and originating phone number to the IRS at 202.552.1226 and then delete the text message. 
  • For more information on IRS text scams or if someone believes they are a victim of tax identity theft, they can visit www.idtheftcenter.org for resources or speak with an advisor toll-free by phone (888.400.5530) or live-chat. 

IRS Text Scam Pops Up on First Day to File

February 12, 2021, is the first day for people to file their 2020 tax returns, and many consumers may receive an email or notification from their tax service that it is time to file. Scammers are trying to take advantage by posing as IRS agents to exploit tax filers. 

The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) has received reports of a new Internal Revenue Service (IRS) text scam that claims “your federal tax return was rejected.” The IRS text scam is designed to get consumers’ personal information, which puts people at additional risk of tax identity theft. Here’s an example of the IRS text scam sent to the ITRC: 

Example of the IRS Text Scam sent to the Identity Theft Resource Center

Government Imposter Scams Continue to Spread 

The IRS text scam is not a new tactic for scammers. Government imposter scams were among the top frauds in 2020 reported by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC says that they received nearly 500,000 reports of imposter scams that cost people $1.2 billion, with a median loss of $850. Government and business imposter scams were among the top categories of COVID-19 and stimulus-related reports. 

Cybercriminals Target Tax Season 

Criminals know they can take advantage of tax season by posing as an IRS representative, especially with more Americans likely to receive a Form 1099-G because their state employment office is providing documentation for receipt of unemployment benefits. However, many of those taxpayers may be victims of unemployment benefits fraud because identity thieves received benefits in their name.  

What You Should Do 

The IRS will not text anyone about their tax return. People may receive a text from their tax filer, but never from the IRS. (People should still independently check with their filing service because scammers may also spoof tax filing entities.)  

If anyone gets a text message claiming to be the IRS, they should do the following: 

  1. Do not respond, open any attachments or click on any links. An attachment or a link could contain a malicious code that has the ability to infect someone’s device. 
  1. The IRS asks people to forward the IRS text scam and the originating phone number as-is to  202.552.1226.  
  1. After forwarding the information to the IRS, the original text message should be deleted.  

It is also a good idea to never respond to any unsolicited messages. Instead, consumers should reach out directly to the company or person the message claims to be from to verify the message’s validity. People should also refrain from providing their personal information unless it is necessary or with a trusted organization. 

Contact the ITRC 

Anyone who believes they are the victim of an IRS text scam, tax identity theft, or wants to learn more can visit the ITRC website for additional resources. They can also contact an advisor toll-free by phone (888.400.5530) or by live-chat. All people have to do is visit www.idtheftcenter.org to get started.