Identity theft risk spiking with covid19

October 13, 2020
Ike Devji, JD

An unexpected side effect of COVID19 is a significant rise in identity theft and related cybercrimes. Here are the most common traps to look out for and a response plan in case it happens to you or someone you know.

An unexpected side effect of COVID19 is a significant rise in identity theft and related cybercrimes. Here are the most common traps to look out for and a response plan in case it happens to you or someone you know.

We’ve covered a variety of risks related to the coronavirus from many angles, ranging from the need for you to reexamine your liability insurance coverage to the importance of having effective mask-usage policies and the ways COVID 19 threatens your medical practice and how to survive the effects on your income and the economy. One risk we previously anticipated, but certainly not to the extent to which it actually happened, has been a spike in identity theft.

The statistics are shocking; it happens every two seconds, has affected 30% of the U.S. population and affected over 14 million last year alone. Criminals have taken advantage of the chaos the virus has caused to both increase their traditional identity theft activities and to expand into newer areas including using your identity to fraudulent obtain unemployment benefits, receive PPP Loans, and take over your bank accounts and open new accounts in your name.

Scams Fall into Three Major Categories

  • They get you to reveal your personal identifying information to them by phone, online, by text message or through some other form of “phishing” that often imitates a vendor, bank, etc. where you actually have an account.
  • Using malware to infect your computer or smart phone so they can get your passwords and other personal info or use ransomware to lock you out of your computers and files. This may include the use of malicious links and attachments in emails and text messages, asking you to call a fake customer service number, or directing you to a fake log-in page where you are asked to enter or “confirm” your information.
  • Getting you to send money to or make purchases from organizations that are not legitimate in one or more ways.

Some COVID 19 Specific Scams

There are a variety of consumer, security, and financial industry articles on this issue out there, but one of the most concise summaries of the COVID19 specific threats I’ve seen and one I’ve saved to share with my clients is from PNC bank. Their list includes the following:

  1. PPE and Medical Supply Scams: Beware of fraudulent websites offering PPE, vaccines, testing kits, or other scare supplies at too good to be true prices. In some cases, they will bill but never deliver; deliver counterfeit, expired, or non-conforming goods; or simply steal the credit card info you enter.
  2. Remote Work Scams: This goes both ways, so both remote workers and their employers should be vigilant about checking details like return email addresses and should verify any unfamiliar, private, or new email addresses with the sender by phone before disclosing any sensitive info, responding to payment or wire requests, or even clicking any links or opening attachments.
  3. Impersonation of a real medical or health organization while selling products that falsely claim to prevent, diagnose, or treat COVID-19, or as a government organization claiming to provide information about COVID-19—such as contact tracing, heat maps, or infographics.

What to Do if It Happens

For most Americans, it’s a now question of when, not if, identity theft will affect you, a family member, or a colleague. Fortunately, the FTC has a nicely designed government website—they make the identity theft reporting process very simple and provide a step-by-step checklist and online progress tracking system, including an online report form you can fill out in just minutes, prefilled forms you may need to use with financial institutions and links to credit agencies, and others you will need to access and make reports to and get your credit report from.

Basic Steps To Take Immediately

  1. Call the company(ies) or government agency where they fraud occurred and file a formal report
  2. Place a fraud alert on your credit report or “freeze” and get your credit reports
  3. Report identity theft to the FTC using the website and get a report number
  4. File a police report with local police
  5. Review your credit reports with all three credit agencies and correct any mistakes and dispute any fraudulent reports or accounts (links at FTC website)
  6. Notify banks of any fake accounts opened in your name
  7. Change your passwords
  8. Stay vigilant

About the Author

Ike Devji, JD, has practiced law exclusively in the areas of asset protection, risk management and wealth preservation for the last 16 years. He helps protect a national client base with more than $5 billion in personal assets, including several thousand physicians. He is a contributing author to multiple books for physicians and a frequent medical conference speaker and CME presenter. Learn more at www.ProAssetProtection.com.