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Watch Out for COVID Relief Phishing Scams

While plenty of people are relieved to see the calendar change from 2020 to 2021, many of the previous year’s problems have followed us into the new year — namely the Coronavirus pandemic. The vaccines give us hope that an end to the pandemic is slowly creeping into sight; in the meantime, however, many Americans across the country continue to struggle financially due to COVID restrictions not allowing them to operate as they would in a normal year. Cybercriminals have taken note of the urgency with which people need financial assistance in these trying times and are, as anyone would guess, trying to take advantage of innocent bystanders.

Stimulus Checks

In December of 2020, the government approved a second stimulus check for U.S. citizens in the amount of $600 to provide slight financial relief. While this is good news for many people needing some extra cash to keep them going, the cybercriminals took this as their cue to attempt to dupe desperate people into falling for one of their many scams. Reports have flooded both the Better Business Bureau the IRS where people received texts, emails, phone calls, and even social media messages regarding the second stimulus check.

As with a typical phishing scam, these messages being sent via various means are urging recipients to act fast and click on links to confirm bank account information and provide other, highly-sensitive personally identifiable information. The BBB and IRS will never request for you to provide any of this information in such unsecured ways and will typically provide all correspondence via snail mail. If you are prompted with an urgent message claiming to be from a seemingly legitimate source, do not click on anything sent to you and instead go directly to the source to determine if what you have received is legitimate — it will almost surely be proven to be illegitimate.

Unemployment Benefits

Not only are cybercriminals taking advantage of folks trying to obtain their much needed stimulus checks, but they are also preying on individuals who are trying to claim unemployment and utilize those benefits. These people are in incredibly tough positions, having lost their jobs either temporarily due to COVID or much worse, permanently, depending on each person’s situation; malicious actors are worsening these circumstances by trying to steal these people’s personal information or in some cases, their unemployment benefits.

An unfortunate example of such scams has been seen in the Silver State, as the Nevada Department of Employment, Training, and Rehabilitation (DETR) has warned that malicious actors are trying to dupe the state’s citizens with a new, sophisticated-looking phishing scam. The fraudulent email appears legitimate as it comes from a .gov sender address which mimics a familiar format that would be seen from such a entity as DETR. The contents of one such email read:

Attention,The Nevada Department of Employment and Rehabilitation (DETR) is sending you this notice as a security measure regarding the recent system upgrade, and we experienced a minor problem with mailing addresses.

Individuals who applied and filled for benefits during the month had been approved but our mailing system had addresses mixed up hence having the benefits sent to different and wrong addresses.Your address was one of the mailing addresses, so we urge you to NOT destroy any mail you receive from the Nevada Department of Employment and Rehabilitation (DETR).

Send a reply to acknowledge and affirm you have received this important notice for further instructions.Thank you,Unemployment Insurance (UI)DETR, State of Nevada, U.S.A

In an interview with KTNV ABC 13 Action News, CEO of Tego Cyber, Shannon Wilkinson, aptly describes these cybercriminals targeting Nevadans as being “very opportunistic” when it comes to when these malicious actors decide to pounce on their victims. Wilkinson implores recipients of these malicious emails to not click on links in this and other suspect emails. Additionally, recipients should most definitely not respond back to the sender as is requested in the email as this will only provide the scammers with access to your information. These actors are trying to lure in victims since people are looking for assistance or information regarding their much needed benefits — while you should not be fearful of informing yourself on things like unemployment benefits or stimulus checks, you should be cautious and go directly to legitimate sources when looking for information as opposed to clicking links in unsolicited emails.

Image by standret for Freepik.