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Unemployment Benefit and Other Scams to Protect Yourself Against During the COVID-19 Pandemic

This blog was contributed by the Security and Fraud team at Vantage West Credit Union, a $2 billion financial institution which serves a growing Membership of more than 160,000.

Fraudsters are taking advantage of COVID-19 and its impact on the economy to exploit people who have lost their jobs. Scammers have deceived hundreds of people into receiving fraudulent unemployment benefits and/or Small Business Administration Paycheck Protection Program (SBA PPP) loans via ACH transfer. Once the funds are deposited, the fraudster asks the victim to transfer the funds elsewhere.

Indicators That You Might Be a Victim of This Fraud

  • The “employer” only communicates through web-based email services
  • You are asked to receive funds to your personal account and then “process” or “transfer” funds via wire transfer or ACH
  • You are asked to open account(s) in your name for a business
  • You are told to keep a portion of the money you transfer

How to Protect Yourself

Don’t respond to unsolicited emails or text messages

Never open any unsolicited or suspicious communications, whether it’s a text message or an email. Remember to never respond to text messages claiming to be about your unemployment insurance benefits. State employment services will not reach out to you via text message.

Never click on website links in emails

Phishing attempts are communications such as emails, text messages, or other messages that impersonate trustworthy companies with the intention of tricking victims to share personal information such as credit card or bank account numbers. Phishing messages sometimes appear convincingly legitimate. They may mimic an entity you trust. Even so, do not click on website links in the email. Instead, go directly to the official website — with the “HTTPS” and padlock in the URL bar — to access your account.

Watch out for “drive-by” downloads

The McAfee blog describes “drive-by” downloads this way:

“You just need to visit or ‘drive by’ a web page, without stopping to click or accept any software, and the malicious code can download in the background to your device. A drive-by download will usually take advantage of (or ‘exploit’) a browser, app, or operating system that is out of date and has a security flaw.” One of the best ways to protect against drive-by downloads is to keep your computer’s software updated to help catch these issues.

Keep your security software up to date

It is important to keep your security software up to date, because software updates include ongoing fixes to security gaps that hackers and fraudsters alike can exploit. If your software is outdated, it offers hackers an opportunity to gain unauthorized access to your computer. Once they access the system, they can remotely disable firewalls, cancel software auto-updates, wipe out files, and steal your personal information such as passwords and login credentials. Take every precaution you can to avoid this, including keeping your security software up to date.

Don’t give out your personal information to unofficial websites

Remember that you will need to go through the state government’s official website or call the government agency to receive unemployment benefits. Additionally, never give out your personal information over email or text message.

Be skeptical

Disregard any communications about your unemployment insurance benefits filing status and a request for money. If the sender or caller claims to be able to help you file your benefits for a fee, do not participate. If they claim they’re state government personnel and need a fee to complete your application, disregard. Remember, it’s free to file for unemployment benefits.

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