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Beware of COVID-19 financial bailout scams

Insight Article - May 18, 2020

Disaster Planning

Marion Jenkins PhD, FHIMSS

Above all else, remember: No one is going to contact you. If they do, it’s likely a scam.

As if COVID-19 itself wasn’t bad enough — plus people selling fake test kits and highly marked-up critical supplies, we now have online threats centered around the federal stimulus program.

Trillions of dollars — a huge target of opportunity

The stimulus package represents an unprecedented amount of assistance and a big target for scams. With large numbers of people working remotely, on unfamiliar tech platforms, staying online for hours at a time with tons of incoming information, the environment is ripe for financial scams.

Beware of direct outreach from anyone via phone, text, email or social media offering assistance with the COVID-19 financial relief bill, and/or asking for personal or business information. This includes anyone telling you that you must supply info to get stimulus/relief funds. They may claim to be from the IRS, or any federal, state or local agency, as well as businesses. Do not respond to calls or messages or click on links or open attachments. Scammers are not only after the stimulus money — they are also after any valuable information about your or your business that they can get their hands on.

Be wary even if the message appears to come from your bank or insurance company. Scammers know companies such as Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, USAA, Anthem, United Healthcare, etc., have millions of customers, so they play the odds and craft a message that looks extremely convincing to potential victims. And since we are all “customers” of the government, it’s easy for them to craft something that looks legitimate.

Think about it — it just doesn’t make sense

Every government agency, mortgage lender, bank, insurance company and literally every other business is short-staffed right now, and is flooded with inbound inquiries concerning work hours, testing, benefits, refunds, etc. The number of people who have applied for unemployment since the pandemic began hit 36 million in May. Do you think the unemployment office has time to contact you and ask if you want to file a claim?

Similarly, the federal tax deadline is pushed back to mid-July. Do you think the IRS needs to talk to you now? With every business trying to navigate the current crisis a week at a time, do you think they have the bandwidth to create an outreach campaign? No one is going to contact you out of the blue. Beware of “consultants” or “brokers” who claim to be able to navigate any financial assistance programs on your behalf, especially for “free.”

Specific tips for specific roles

  • Business owners and managers: Scammers can easily use social media (e.g., LinkedIn) to determine your role — CFO, HR manager, etc. — and craft a targeted “spear-phishing” message focused around that role, such as payroll, benefits, financial relief for the business, etc. Even before COVID-19, there were rampant issues with scams involving IRS refunds, vendor invoicing, package deliveries, etc.
  • Employees: The scammers’ focus here is on personal needs, such as unemployment benefits, rent or mortgage relief, delaying utility bills, car payments, student loans, etc. Be particularly conscious of messages that appear to come from a large institution, such as Chase, Bank of America, USAA, Anthem, etc., if you are a customer.
  • Parents (including school-age kids): There are two big risks here:
    1. You probably have a lot of new online content relating to e-learning. Some of that content may be bogus or contain attractive links that might snag you or your kids into unsavory or risky sites.
    2. If you are using a work computer or accessing your workplace systems using a home computer that your children also use for e-learning or entertainment, take extra precautions — seek guidance from your manager or your IT department.

Helpful resources via the federal government:

Additional resources

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About the Author

Marion Jenkins
Marion Jenkins PhD, FHIMSS
Partner HealthSpaces

Marion Jenkins is a partner and co-founder of HealthSpaces, whose mission is to improve patient and provider experiences while reducing healthcare costs. He is a nationally-recognized author and speaker on healthcare technology. For the last 20 years he has helped many healthcare organizations develop and execute viable technology strategies, and has been involved with more than 200 healthcare technology engagements in 40 states.  

  • PhD in Engineering from Stanford 
  • Fellow, Health Information Management Systems Society (HIMSS)
  • Eagle Scout
  • Air Force Veteran
  • Grew up on a potato farm in Idaho 
Email Marion at Marion@healthspaces.com.

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