3rd stimulus check, COVID vaccine appointments used by scammers to steal personal information

ByJason Knowles and Ann Pistone WLS logo
Friday, March 19, 2021
Scammers use 3rd stimulus check, COVID vaccine demand to steal personal info
A new wave of costly scams is preying on people's twin obsessions of the moment: getting the COVID-19 vaccine and getting their third stimulus check

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A new wave of costly scams is preying on people's twin obsessions of the moment: getting the COVID-19 vaccine and getting their third stimulus check.

"The threat actors are using COVID-19 because it's this ambient anxiety that everyone has; they are worried about it, thinking about it, and so the threat actors are using that to get people to take an action," said Sherrod DeGrippo, Proofpoint cybersecurity expert.

Those actions include clicking on links in fake emails. DeGrippo discovered a scam IRS email that instructs recipients to click to apply for federal aid. But clicking the link downloads a virus that steals personal banking information and credentials.

"There are also things that say, the COVID-19 vaccine is here," DeGrippo said. "Click this link to make your appointment and get a vaccine before anyone else."

RELATED: IRS says to watch out for stimulus check scams, COVID-19 schemes

Phishing techniques are also being used to prey on the high interest in stimulus money. Texts, emails and social media posts that say "click here to get your stimulus" can download malware to your device.

And if those fake links don't fool you, there are also fake stimulus checks being sent out.

"Scammers are really good, they see what these stimulus checks look like and they just counterfeit them and send them to people and then contact them impersonating the government, claiming they overpaid or weren't entitled to a stimulus check in the first place; wanting you to send the money back to them," said Todd Kossow, Director of the Midwest Region of the Federal Trade Commission. "The check is fraudulent and so if you send them money back, you are just sending your own money."

If they ask you to send back money, you know you've received a fake check. If you cash the check, the bank can hold you responsible for all of the money.

There are even reports of people paying for stimulus money.

"The reasons they come up with to have you pay money to get money sound plausible, and with people hurting so badly or out of work during the pandemic it may not seem implausible to pay and get the stimulus check," Kossow said.

The Better Business Bureau warns of Small Business Administration loan email scams that have addresses ending in sba.gov. If you are interested in a loan, the BBB said, you should contact the SBA directly.

"Be really careful about what you're clicking on, really careful about what you're enabling," warned DeGrippo. "Approach communications from strangers with the same kind of skepticism that you would somebody coming up and knocking on your car window and trying to engage with you. 'Why is this coming to me, this looks a little suspicious.'"

If you come across fraud, report it to the FTC at www.reportfraud.ftc.gov.

Here are more scam examples from the BBB and FTC, AND tips on what to look for to avoid these scams:

FTC Coronavirus Stimulus Payment Scams: What You Need To Know

BBB Scam Alert: New round of stimulus checks could trigger more cons