Cybercriminals use the confusion and chaos that surrounds federal assistance payments either to steal those payments or to take money from you to help you claim those payments. These same crooks work with hackers to send emails spoofing federal agencies while spreading malware. And of course, there are attacks that try to get information about you or your business so that they can redirect it to the scammer’s bank account.
“First of all, we saw a lot of it,” said Roger Grimes, data-driven defense evangelist at KnowBe4. Grimes said he saw a 670 percent increase in that number in March alone.
“The loan and stimulus scams started before they were even approved.” Grimes said they started a week and a half before the law was passed.
Scams happen in emails, web ads, and social media. They promise to help you get your stimulus payment of $ 1200.00, they offer to get your economic disaster loan from the Small Business Administration or manage the payroll protection program documents.
Depending on the attacker, emails and advertisements may appear to come from a bank or service that appears to be designed to help with loans, often with logos from a legitimate source. For example, Grimes helps that one such scam attempt his company found appears to be from American Express and used footage from previous phishing attempts. Others will try to usurp the SBA.
To preserve the appearance of legitimacy, scammers are setting up new sites that appear genuine. Shashi Prakash, Co-Founder and Chief Scientist of Bolster, who runs a COVID-19 scam tracking dashboard, said, “We’ve seen two different types. Registered domains refer to small business loans, and we’ve seen domains with names as stimulus.
Prakash said those domain registrations reached 145,000 in one month.
There are three types of scams. The first is a phishing email designed to get the information needed to make a PPP or EIDL request with your details and their banking information. The second is similar in that it aims to get the information needed to update payment information on the IRS website for stimulus payments. Then there are the scams that try to get you to pay to have the scammer take care of the application documents for you, but where you will only pay the processing fee, but not submit an application.
What to watch out for
By now you know the signs of a phishing email, things like misspelled words, bad grammar, and links that go somewhere other than where they seem to go. But it goes beyond trying to charge you a fee for applying for SBA loans, for example.
Plus, the mere fact that they are approaching you is a gift. To apply to EIDL, you go to the SBA website and fill out a short form. You will get an advance on an SBA loan in about a month.
You apply for a PPP loan through a financial institution, normally a bank where you already have a business account, although other banks will also accept requests, and some financial organizations such as PayPal will accept PPP requests. There is no way to speed up a stimulus payment other than going to the IRS website and making sure they have your banking information.
What to do
First of all, whatever you do, don’t click anything in those emails, websites, or social media posts that offer to help you get an SBA loan or help you with your stimulus payment. If you are contacted, the FBI has a resource list in line. The Department of Justice has resources, including a toll-free number at National Disaster Enforcement Center. The FBI can file a complaint at Internet Crime Complaints Center. The FTC has a resource page at its Coronavirus advice for consumers page.
In the meantime, a few tips:
Suppose any contact offering help or selling you something regarding COVID-19 is fraudulent, unless proven otherwise.
There is no vaccine against the COVID-19 coronavirus. Any offer to sell you one is fraudulent.
There is no treatment for COVID-19 that you can give yourself. Remdesivir must be taken intravenously. There are no pills. Offers to sell this drug are fraudulent.
There are no FDA approved self-administered COVID-19 tests. These products are also fraudulent.
· Chloroquine may be available, but it does not help COVID-19. In fact, studies show you could die sooner with it. Its cousin Quinine won’t help either, except it might help calm your nerves when included in tonic water with gin.
Although you can buy PPE including masks, gowns and N95 gloves, there is a high percentage of counterfeits on the market. Make sure you are buying from a reliable source.
If you have any doubts about a source, check the URL with Bolster’s phishing page. And remember, when the government is handing out money, scammers, phishers, and cybercriminals will be there to take it away from you.