Coronavirus scams are proving to be a money-maker for criminals. According to a consumer report by the Federal Trade Commission, there have been 116,533 reports of scams related to the coronavirus and stimulus checks this year and an estimated $157.27 million lost.
Fraudsters are exploiting the pandemic to gather personal and financial information through an array of scams, including phishing emails and texts, robocalls, and more. For example, a recent coronavirus scam targeted stolen identities to file unemployment claims. Small business owners are also at risk since scammers have used stolen identities to apply for Small Business Association loans.
Here are the types of coronavirus scams you may see and what you need to know to protect yourself and your business.
Fake Donation Sites
Because they routinely give back to the communities they serve, small business owners may fall victim to fake donation sites. Scammers will prey on their generosity by reaching out via email to request help for victims of COVID-19 and will direct them to fraudulent donation sites.
The safest way to help nonprofits during the pandemic is to go directly to the organization website, and not through any emails or texts. A word of caution on using a search engine like Google to locate the site: scammers will purchase ads on those platforms that look like legitimate ads for the organization. So, stay clear of ad results and only click on the organic search results. You can also click through from reputable charity rating websites such as Charity Navigator or Guidestar.org.
In addition to fake emails, watch out for phone scams. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has warned of a scam in which calls that appear to come from the CDC request donations. It can be confusing to see a legitimate governmental agency name on your caller ID, but this type of spoofing is common and difficult to block. The CDC made clear that federal agencies do not request donations from the public. If you receive such a call, simply hang up and report the call to the Federal Communications Commission.
Coronavirus Relief Financial Fraud
A new wave of schemes to steal government payments emerged when Congress passed the CARES Act with $2.2 trillion in stimulus funds, a good portion of which was allocated to support businesses experiencing hardships due to the effects of COVID-19.
Don’t believe CARES Act business loan claims, such as administering a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan quicker or promising to increase the loan amount a business receives. Not only are those types of claims false, but also the PPP loan program closed in August. Now businesses who received PPP loans are working through the loan forgiveness application, so it’s important to beware of calls or emails promising to have a PPP loan forgiven.
To protect your business from these types of scams, remain vigilant in responding to all requests for confidential information, such as business identification numbers, Social Security numbers, as well as requests for payments. Governmental agencies will never call you to request confidential information related to the CARES Act programs. If you receive a call from someone claiming to be with the IRS or Small Business Administration who asks for confidential information or payment, it is likely a scam. Always go directly to the agency website and log in to your account, or call the agency directly.
Phishing is an online scam with the purpose of extracting personal or confidential information that can be used to access bank accounts, wire funds, or hold data or systems hostage for ransom. The coronavirus pandemic has brought about a significant increase in targeted phishing campaigns, such as phishing texts, emails, and even malicious website domains. Many times, phishing attempts come in the form of an email that appears to come from someone you know or a company you already work with.
Most recently, small business owners were targeted by a health information scam relating to the coronavirus when a series of emails, purportedly from the CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO), claimed to provide the latest updates on the virus. If any links were clicked, cybercriminals could gain access to that computer, and potentially compromise the company’s entire network. Phishing emails involving coronavirus contact tracing messaging have also been reported.
To protect your business, ignore incoming coronavirus-related messages and go directly to legitimate sources, like the CDC and WHO, as well as your local health department.
Protect Your Business from Coronavirus Scams
- Educate yourself and your employees on the latest coronavirus scams.
- Be wary of emails or calls pertaining to PPP loans.
- Don’t click on links or download files from unexpected emails or text messages.
- Don’t share financial, personal, or business information in response to unsolicited calls, texts, or emails.
- Ignore phone calls or emails about donations for COVID-19 victims. If you would like to help, start by calling a reputable local nonprofit organization.