The Recorder – Police: Beware of scam artists exploiting pandemic | #coronavirus | #scams | #covid19

Published: 9/4/2020 4:13:19 PM

Modified: 9/4/2020 4:13:06 PM

It seems there is always an underground legion of faceless scam artists ready to pounce on any tragedy or devastating event.

Shady charities popped up after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, fraudsters sent unsolicited emails asking for donations following the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami and, more recently, the Better Business Bureau warned people about the likelihood of click bait and scams connected to Kobe Bryant after the legendary basketball player, his daughter and seven other people died in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26.

Now, nefarious individuals are exploiting the latest unfortunate situation — the economic downturn caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic. The state has posted information to help residents protect themselves from coronavirus-related scams, including fraudulent unemployment claims and phishing, attempts to obtain sensitive and financial information or data by masquerading online as someone trustworthy.

The Greenfield Police Department has received many calls from residents reporting they received calls regarding an unemployment claim someone filed in their name.

“It’s widespread, it’s happening across the state. So it’s certainly not (only a) local issue,” Deputy Chief Mark Williams said, adding that there are people who will do “anything to get a buck.”

Williams said anyone who learns of a fraudulent unemployment claim filed in their name should call their local police department to have it documented. He said his department directs people to bit.ly/31Vz7oj, a page on the state’s website to report unemployment fraud. Williams said the state has investigators for this specific activity. The state also, he said, looks for similarities and patterns between cases.

The deputy chief said there is no limit to the lengths criminals will go to swindle people.

“This is a different type of flavor to the same type of scam we’ve seen before,” Williams said.

Williams urges people to never give out their personal or financial information unless they are certain the other party is legitimate. He also said to not trust your caller ID, because fraudsters can manipulate them to appear to be calling from a company or government agency.

Erving Police Sgt. Rob Holst said his department has received at least six calls since June 1 regarding fraudulent unemployment claims.

He said anyone who learns of a false claim should call the police. They should also contact the Federal Trade Commission to file an affidavit of fraud. Holst also suggests people regularly check in with one of the three major credit reporting agencies — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — to ensure they are not embedded in some type of scam.

In regards to phishing, the state recommends people be wary of email attachments and not click on links in unsolicited emails. Throughout the pandemic, scammers pretending to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and health care workers have been flooding inboxes with seemingly urgent safety messages and health information in an attempt to steal personal information. More information on phishing can be found at bit.ly/3gSQn1H.

Orange Police Chief James Sullivan said his department has “gotten a bunch of” reports of fraudulent claims. He said he marvels at how quickly scammers adapt to exploit new scenarios.

“It’s amazing how they’re always evolving and changing,” he said, adding that unlike auto-dial phone scams, these unemployment fraudulent claims were actually filed and mess with a person’s finances and owed taxes.

Sullivan also said some people in the North Quabbin region were submitted to what authorities call a “brushing scam.” In a brushing scam, people receive unsolicited items from a seller who then posts false customer reviews to boost sales.

One scam that Sullivan remembers involved a man he met who purchased iTunes cards at Walmart because someone claiming to be from the Internal Revenue Service told him he had to pay back taxes with them.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.

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