Secret Service Warns Of COVID-19 Fraudsters
The CARES Act sent $2 trillion out across the United States. Inevitably that will attract criminals. The U.S. Secret Service has already seen some web sites and emails pretending to be the CDC or WHO and asking people for personal information, said Thomas C. Edwards, special agent in charge of the San Francisco regional office.
The criminals are becoming more and more sophisticated, he added. A few years ago many scamming emails were easy to identify because the grammar and spelling were so poor. Now criminals have stepped up their game. They can spoof bank phone numbers so the call appears to be from the bank or credit union and some even play the same music the financial institution uses on hold.
“We want to get the word out — your bank or credit union is not going to call you and request personal information — they already have it. They don’t call to authenticate you; they can authenticate you when you call them.” After Katrina the government established theNational Center for Disaster Fraud in Baton Rouge, LA— it is the touchpoint for all fraud related to natural and man-made disasters and has a hotline for COVID-19 related fraud complaints: 1-866-720-5721 or e-mail at disaster@ .
Katrina was $108 billion in total damage, Rita was $10 billion, said Edwards. “Now we are talking about a $2 trillion stimulus bill — it’s a target-rich environment.”
“These fraudsters are very sophisticated, running data analytics.”
They may already have your name and 16 number digit account number, usually they need a bit more information, which is why they are going after consumers directly. They may call to say they need a PIN number or the three digits on the back of your credit card, maybe to validate a deposit or to investigate fraudulent charges, she added
“They are calling for a reason and asking for added pieces of information that are highly personal.” The hard part is the robo calls, said Edwards. “They are bypassing a lot of the analytics that companies and the government have so they can get directly to consumers. The government — Social Security, the IRS, Treasury — is not going to call you for your personal info, we already have that info,” said Edwards. “Just hang up, and it you want to check the information, call the agency directly.” Similarly, check the sending address on emails by clicking on it, and don’t click on links — go to the bank or government agency web site directly. The FTC has a Coronavirus web site to warn people about scams, such as unproven cures.
The Washington Post Technology 202 post warns that some mainstream fintech companies offering to help speed payments are collecting a lot of information from individuals.
The news site quotes Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) warning against the Internal Revenue Service being overly dependent on private middlemen as it seeks to distribute the funds.
“This crisis has highlighted the consequences of a decade of IRS budget cuts,” he told The Technology 202 in a statement. “The IRS should be less dependent on private companies to distribute refund payments to millions of Americans. Over the long term we need to ensure that IRS has the resources to more quickly respond especially in an economic downturn.”
Meanwhile, for medical advice the FTC suggests:
“The Federal Trade Commission and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have sent warning letters to seven companies allegedly selling unapproved products that may violate federal law by making deceptive or scientifically unsupported claims about their ability to treat coronavirus (COVID-19).”
No word about whether they are going to issue an official warning about President Trump’s encouraging people to try hydroxychloroquine, which has no proven effect on the virus.
Other topics on the FTC site include:
Want to get your Coronavirus relief check? Scammers do too.
Small businesses: Where to go for financial relief information
Coronavirus: Scammers follow the headlines.
Edwards said criminals are phishing for information and using text messages and even capturing texted messages for two-factor authentication, in addition to old-fashioned reliance on emails and phone calls. Law enforcement agencies’ success rate in catching and convicting cyber criminals varies by case. “We have great relationships with partner organizations overseas. If we are able to get the digital identifiers and get cooperation from partners overseas, we have a pretty good chance of catching some of these criminals, but it is a difficult road given the way you can be anonymous online.”
The Secret Service focuses on crime organizations that are for profit while the FBI focuses more on national security, he added, although there is some overlap.