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Fraud Stops for Nothing – Not Even a Pandemic

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Sarah Nicholas

It’s a shame we have to protect ourselves when we’re most vulnerable. But, that’s exactly what cyber criminals wait for – a chance to catch us off guard, find loopholes in the system and exploit our vulnerabilities. With billions of dollars in unemployment benefits flowing between government agencies and millions of people the last several months, the pandemic is rife with opportunity for criminals. 

We must direct our energy to employing cyber safety best practices we already know, learning criminals’ strategies and beefing up our firewalls to guard against them.

Given that most of us have been less mobile and more active online over the last several months, identity theft has become a popular way to steal unemployment funds. Scammers rely on Social Security Numbers and other PII (personally identifiable information) they’ve collected in any number of ways, often through social engineering (when people use deception to trick you into divulging your PII). They could also have obtained your data from past data breaches, such as the Equifax breach in 2017. They may also enlist the help of “money mules,” who process and launder unemployment funds for the promise they can keep a portion of the profits for themselves. Some are willing participants; some are victims themselves.

Another emerging scam involves sending unsolicited unemployment debit cards to people who haven’t applied for benefits. If you receive one, call the issuing bank immediately so they can cancel the card.

With bad actors so creative, sneaky and persistent, how can you avoid becoming a victim?

Every state has an office that processes unemployment claims. Find yours here. It’s highly unlikely that they will ever call, email or text you, let alone ask you to share your PII. Be suspicious of anyone who contacts you asking you for these things, promises to shortcut the process for you, offers something that sounds too good to be true or pressures you for any reason.

Also, watch your bank account for unusual activity. According to David Haley, chief information security officer for Ameris Bank, notifying your bank as soon as you notice extra or missing funds is critical. He comments, “Your bank is one of your best allies in detecting, reporting and preventing evolving fraud schemes. Even if we can’t stop it, reporting fraud as soon as you spot it gives authorities a better chance to track and punish perpetrators and recover your losses.”  

If you suspect you have been contacted by a scammer, or you have been the victim of a scam or attempted fraud involving COVID-19, make sure to contact your bank. You can also contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866.720.5721 or via email at [email protected].

And, know that if you participate in fraudulent activity, you may be subject to federal law enforcement consequences.

You can find other COVID-19 resources and cybersecurity resources on our website. We also invite you to follow us on LinkedIn or Twitter. 


Written by: Sarah Nicholas

Sarah is the Director of Communications for Serendipity Communications. She lives in Plainwell, Michigan with her husband, daughters and stepson, with twin stepdaughters nearby. She is passionate about cyber safety education and animal rights and enjoys ballet dancing, reading and volunteering at her children’s school.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

Ameris Bank is not affiliated with nor endorses any of the companies featured in this article.