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Hundreds of Thousands of Americans Targeted by Scammers During Pandemic – NBC4 Washington | #coronavirus | #scams | #covid19


While
many have been staying home the past six months, scammers have been hard at
work. Like many other families, the COVID-19 crisis turned Wil Alveno’s
Hyattsville, Maryland, home into his office, along with his wife and his
daughter.

“We
definitely were running out of space,” he told the News4 I-Team.

So
they decided to put the house up for sale. They moved to a hotel in June,
hoping the empty home would attract buyers. Instead, it attracted a series of
suspicious events, beginning just two days after their “for sale” sign went up.

A
neighbor called to say some guy was at their house taking pictures. Then Wil’s
realtor got an elaborate email from a local security company, saying it had
been asked to provide an “armed guard” at the house, by a man
claiming to have “recently purchased” it.

“Yes,
that they bought the house. That they just bought this house,” said
Alveno.

At
that point, no one had even looked at the house yet.

The
News4 I-Team called and emailed the fake buyer but never heard back.

Days
later, a neighbor’s security camera captured images of unknown vehicles,
including a white van, parked out front.

“Almost,
like I said, a look out I guess, because they were staying there the whole time,”
Alveno said.

That
included the afternoon when a pricey package showed up at the house. Inside
the box were three new iPhones in the Alveno family’s names.

“Somebody
orders phones somewhere, and then they had them delivered sometime two days
later,” said Alveno.

But
what the scammers didn’t expect was when Wil’s daughter stopped by and picked
up that package instead — a lucky catch.

“There’s
no reason why all of these things can be just a coincidence,” said Alveno.

There’s
a good chance it is all connected as many Americans are being targeted. 
The Federal Trade Commission said it’s received almost 200,000 reports about
fraud and identity theft since the Covid-19 crisis started.

“The
scammers are out in force. This is like the Super Bowl, the World Series, the
NBA Finals, the Masters, the World Cup all rolled up into one big event,” said
James Lee with the Identity Theft Resource Center.

He
said while realty scams are not new, they’re more often tied to commercial
properties.

News4
asked him if it’s likely all of the suspicious activities could have stemmed
from the Alveno’s listing their house.

“It
could very well be because those are public documents, right. So what happens is scammers will see that a house
is for sale. They’ll verify if it’s empty and then they’ll use it for any
number of illicit activities,” explained Lee.

He
went on to say sometimes scammers will pair that property with private
information bought on the dark web.

“You
can go and buy it right now if you want to do it,” he said. “Ranges anywhere
from 50 cents per record to $11 a record.”

Lee
says with data breaches down this year, he suspects scammers are using up
information stolen over the past five years.

“The
consequence of that is we, as the owners of that data, are going and changing
our passwords. We’re going and updating our information. We’re doing the things
that will frustrate the bad guys so they won’t be able to use that information
anymore, ” said Lee.

Everyone
should be doing that regularly, and Lee suggests freezing your credit if you
think you’ve been a victim.

That’s
what the Alveno family did, luckily.

“So
as soon as we did that, the very next day — and I mean like the very next day —
we get an email saying your account has been inquired for a loan,” said
Alveno.

Someone
tried to take out a federal COVID relief loan in his wife’s name.

“The thing that
really, really, really gets me is that my wife is a hawk on everything that has
to do with finances,” he said.

Despite
all the added stress, Alveno finally got an offer on the house. He just hopes
there are no new surprises now that his family is buying their next home.

Find more advice on avoiding coronavirus scams from the Federal Trade Commission here and search your area for FTC complaints here.

Reported by Jodie Fleischer, produced by Rick Yarborough, and shot and edited by Steve Jones.



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