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As COVID cases increase, so do related scams – What to watch out for

While we are not out of the woods yet regarding the pandemic, people are getting vaccinated and traveling again. With proper precautions, you can see the world while staying safe this summer.

The Delta variant is rising to the top of COVID strains, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has updated its guidelines accordingly. You can keep track of the spread of the virus with an interactive map provided by the CDC. Tap or click here for more information and tips.

The pandemic has unfortunately been a solid source for crooks to ply their trade. There are too many scams to list, but we’ll give you two to watch out for.

Here’s the backstory

Phishing is a common method scammers keep in their tacklebox of tricks. They imitate well-known and trusted brands and companies to get to your information or finances. Phishing scams can be employed through email, phone calls, texts, phony websites and malicious links and apps.

The Federal Trade Commission recently reported on a scam that uses text messaging to inform victims that their unemployment insurance benefits are expiring. In a time when many people are struggling with work, this scam can gain serious traction.

This phishing scam includes a link to a fake state workforce agency (SWA) website, where victims are asked to enter personal information, including their Social Security numbers. Scammers not only get personal information but also use this data for identity theft and false unemployment insurance claims. Yes, they can use an unemployment scam to steal your benefits.

FTC

The report notes that state agencies will never send a text or email messages asking for personal information. If you get one of these messages, do not reply or click any links.

If you think you may be the victim of identity theft, visit www.identitytheft.gov to report the incident and get help. You can also report a suspicious message to ReportFraud.ftc.gov and the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) or call (866) 720-5721.

Eviction panic

Eviction has been another hardship people are facing during the pandemic. And you can bet that scammers are there to take advantage. The Biden Administration has extended the moratorium on evictions to Oct. 3, and it’s easy to become confused with everything surrounding this action.

People are looking for any help as they face the deadline when they have to leave their homes. The Better Business Bureau reports that scammers are swooping in to offer their “assistance” in the form of debt relief, government aid and loans.

Here are some examples of how this scam works:

  • The BBB Scam Tracker report includes the story of a victim being denied any legitimate loans. Then a call came in saying that their loan was approved. The caller said that the money will only be sent once the borrower increased their credit score. This could be done by depositing money in the borrower’s account, who in turn would send the money back and increase their score. The victim sent $1,000 but never received it in return, which led to an overdrafted account.
  • When offering a federal grant, the scammer will request that the victim pays an upfront fee to process the payment. You pay the fee and the scammer disappears. There is no grant.
  • The same trick comes along with debt relief and credit repair scams. The scammer will offer to fix your credit, even promising to erase late payments or bankruptcy, in exchange for advanced payment. Once you send the money, it’s gone for good and your credit will remain unchanged (aside from the money you just doled out to a crook).

The BBB offers the following tips to avoid falling victim to these types of scams:

  • Double check any government program before you sign up. If an organization is offering you a grant or relief funds, get to know them before you agree to anything. Take a close look at their website and read reviews. If you think you might be dealing with an impostor, find the official contact information and call the company to make sure the offer is legitimate.
  • Be wary of out-of-the-blue calls, emails or text message claiming to be from the government. In general, the government will not contact you using these methods, unless you granted permission.
  • Think something seems suspicious? Reach out to the agency directly. If you doubt that a government representative is legitimate, hang up the phone or stop emailing. Then, report the suspicious calls or messages. Make sure the agency is real. Scammers often make up names of agencies and/or grants.
  • Do not pay any money for a “free” government grant or program. It is not really free if there is a fee involved. A real government agency will not ask for an advanced processing fee. Instead, find out if the grant is legitimate by checking grants.gov.
  • Advance fees are a concern. Not all businesses promising to help you repair bad credit are scams, but if you are asked to pay in advance, that’s a big red flag. In both the U.S. and Canada, credit repair and debt relief companies can only collect their fee after they perform the services promised.
  • Avoid guarantees and unusual payment methods. Real lenders never guarantee a loan in advance. They will check your credit score and other documents before providing an interest rate and/or loan amount and will not ask you to pay an upfront fee. Fees are never paid via gift cards, CashApp, or prepaid debit card. Unusual payment methods and payments to an individual are a big tip off.

Keep reading

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