Coronavirus-related consumer complaints pouring into the federal government

Tens of thousands of Americans say they’ve been tricked – or nearly tricked – by scammers

Watching Your Wallet: COVID-19 Scams

Editor’s Note: Following a ruling denying a motion for preliminary injunction, on August 10, 2020, the FTC voluntarily dismissed without prejudice the Federal Complaint against Traffic Jam Events and David Jeansonne.

(InvestigateTV) – Coronavirus scams and schemes are costing Americans a lot of money - to the tune of nearly $60 million in just the first six months of the year, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

An orange envelope would certainly catch attention. The envelope stated, “important COVID-19 economic stimulus document enclosed.”

Inside the envelope, according to images from the FTC, was what appeared to look like a check for $3,344.68 for “Covid-19 AUTO stimulus.”

The document was actually a car ad from Louisiana-based Traffic Jam Events LLC, according to the FTC, which filed a suit to halt what the agency considers a “scheme to lure people to a used car sale.”

Traffic Jam Events has yet to respond to the federal injunction to stop the mailers. InvestigateTV reached out through email and heard nothing back.

This isn’t the first time coronavirus was used in a pitch. InvestigateTV has looked at robocalls making promises, fake job ads and even phony tech support help numbers.

“It’s a perfect time to look for a job, and the scammers and hackers, they’re out there,” said Sandrine Morris, who almost got caught up in a fake job post while looking for a job.

The FTC is now specifically tracking COVID-19 scams, reporting more than 91,808 complaints between January 1 and June 8.

The average person has lost around $300. The total losses top $59.27 million. And those numbers only reflect those who reported their experiences to the federal government.

“It tells me that the scammers are hard at work sitting at their desks just like every single one of us. It also shows me that enterprises, that individuals and organizations have been thrust into this digital future, and they’re not ready for it,” said Kathryn Harrison, the CEO of Deep Trust Alliance, a nonprofit fighting against digital disinformation.

She pointed out everyone is using video chats and technology to communicate more. There is less in-person interaction, which opens the door to more fraud. For example, she said Fidelity National Information Services, a group that works with the big banks, reports a 200% rise in mobile bank registrations.

“How do you know that I’m Kathryn Harrison? There’s an app that just came out in the last couple of weeks called Avatar Fi, and I could put another face over mine. I could be Julia Roberts or Renee Zellwellger,” Harrison said.

New technology in the hands of criminals is making it hard it is for companies to verify identities, which can make fraud even more rampant.

“If you just always assumed there was a way to meet up in person and do something like look at their form of identification, you are in kind of a world of hurt right now,” said Cameron D’Ambrosi with One World Identity, a strategy firm focused on digital identity. “Because the fraudsters can take advantage of companies that don’t have a robust way to verify identities.”

“When you, for example, are applying for a payroll protection program loan, and you claim your Cameron D’Ambrosi, but you’re really not. Identity verification is how you would solve that challenge, which is the person who is logging into this portal claiming that they have a said identity. Is that really who they say they are?”

Both D’Ambrosi and Harrison said there is not a lot of technology out there to help at the moment. It’s up to consumers to be vigilant.

Their tips: Enable two-factor authentication and the strongest passwords possible on every single account you have. Set up notifications through email for every financial account, especially your bank account.

“Even your utility bill. Making sure that you get an email every time a bill is processed,” Harrison said.

D’Ambrosi also advised consumers check their credit report as much as possible. Also, when it comes to any of the federal loan programs or even filing taxes, file early.

“If you can get your real application in first by not waiting until the end of the filing deadline for example, you can kind of get in ahead of time. If someone else tries to steal your identity, the government’s going to reject it,” D’Ambrosi said.

Also – be careful what ends up online. Don’t put dates in a LinkedIn profile or answer questions on Facebook about things like your high school mascot. Scammers, according to the experts, have a lot of time to scour social media and find answers to security questions.

Copyright 2020 Gray Media Group, Inc. All rights reserved.