Cyber criminals are using the confusion and chaos surrounding federal relief payments to either steal those payments, or to take money from you to help you apply for those payments. Those same scammers are working with hackers to send out emails spoofing federal agencies while also delivering malware. And of course there are attacks attempting to get information about you or your business so they can redirect them to the scammer’s bank account.
“First of all, we’ve seen a lot of them,” said Roger Grimes, data driven defense evangelist at KnowBe4. Grimes said he’s seen a 670 percent increase in such in March alone.
“Scams related to loans and stimulus started before they were even approved.” Grimes said they started a week and a half before the law passed.
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The scams arrive in emails, web advertisements and on social media. They promise to help you get your $1200.00 stimulus payment, they offer to get your Economic Injury Disaster Loan from the Small Business Administration or to handle the paperwork for the Payroll Protection Program.
Depending on the attacker the emails and ads may appear to come from a bank or from a service that appears to be designed to help with loans, often with logos lifted from a legitimate source. For example Grimes aid that one such scam attempt his company found appeared to come from American Express, and used imagery taken from previous phishing attempts. Others will try to spoof the SBA.
To preserve the appearance of legitimacy, the scammers are setting up new sites that seem authentic. Shashi Prakash, co-founder and chief scientist for Bolster, which runs a COVID-19 scam tracking dashboard said, “We’ve seen two different types. Domains being registered referring to small business loans, and we’ve seen domains with names like stimulus.”
Prakash said that those domain registrations spiked at 145,000 in a month.
The scams boil down to three types. The first is a phishing email designed to get the information necessary to apply for a PPP or EIDL with your information and their banking information. The second is similar in that it aims to get the information necessary to update payment information on the IRS website for stimulus payments. Then there are the scams that try to get you to pay for the scammer to handle the application paperwork for you, but in which you’ll only get to pay the processing fee, but not get an application submitted.
What to Look Out For
By now you know the signs of a phishing email, things like misspelled words, bad grammar and links that go somewhere besides where they appear to go. But it goes beyond that to attempts to get you to pay a fee for applying for the SBA loans, for example.
In addition, the mere fact that they’re approaching you is a giveaway. To apply for the EIDL, you go to the SBA website and fill out a short form. You’ll 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 a business account, although other banks will also accept applications, and some financial organizations such as PayPal are accepting PPP applications. There’s no way to expedite a stimulus payment, other than going to the IRS website and making sure they have your banking information.
What to Do
First, whatever you do, don’t click on anything in these emails, websites or social media posts that offer to help you get an SBA loan or to help with your stimulus payment. If you are contacted, The FBI has a list of resources online. The Department of Justice has resources including a toll-free number at the National Center for Disaster Fraud. The FBI can take a complaint at the Internet Crime Complaint Center. The FTC has a page of resources at its Coronavirus Advice for Consumers page.
Meanwhile, a few tips:
· Assume that any contact offering help or to sell you something relating to COVID-19 is fraudulent unless proven otherwise.
· There is no vaccine for the COVID-19 coronavirus. Any offer to sell you one is fraudulent.
· There is no treatment for COVID-19 that you can administer yourself. Remdesivir must be taken in an IV. There are no pills. Offers to sell this drug are fraudulent.
· There are no self-administered COVID-19 tests approved by the FDA. These products are also fraudulent.
· Chloroquine may be available, but it doesn’t help COVID-19. In fact studies show you may die sooner with it. Its cousin Quinine won’t help either, except it might help steady your nerves when included in tonic water with some gin.
· While you may be able to buy some PPE, including N95 masks, gowns and gloves, there’s a high percentage of fakes on the market. Make sure you’re buying from a reputable source.
If you have doubts about a source, check the URL with Bolster’s checkphish page. And remember, when the government is handing out money, fraudsters, phishers and cyber criminals will be right there to take it off your hands
Wayne Rash is a science and technology writer based in Washington, DC. He’s a columnist for eWEEK and writes for PC Magazine. He’s a former Executive Editor of eWEEK, a