At the beginning of February, the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC), a non-profit dedicated to public education about identity theft and supporting victims of identity theft in resolving their cases, and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) hosted a discussion about identity theft during the COVID-19 pandemic. The discussion was part of the Identity Theft Awareness week, held from Feb. 1-5, 2021.
Identity Theft Cases Rise in 2020
In their announcement about Identity Theft Awareness Week, the FTC reported that, “2020’s biggest surge in identity theft reports to the FTC related to the nationwide dip in employment. After the government expanded unemployment benefits to people left jobless by the pandemic, cybercriminals filed unemployment claims using other people’s personal information. In 2020, we had 394,280 reports about government benefits fraud — overwhelmingly about identity theft involving unemployment benefits. Compare that with 12,900 reports in 2019.”
The FTC has published guidance about what to do if you find out that your identity has been used to access unemployment benefits.
Identity Theft and Small Business Loans
The Small Business Administration (SBA) has recently released more funds for small business loans to help businesses survive during the pandemic. Unfortunately, the small business loan program has been riddled with fraud as a result of identity theft. The FTC reports, “Last year, we had 99,650 reports of fraud involving business or personal loans, compared with 43,920 reports in 2019. Not all of the new reports related to the government relief effort, but they were a big share of the increase.”
Identity Theft and Federal Stimulus Payments
Another big cause of the rise in identity theft in 2020 was as a result of federal relief money in the form of direct stimulus payments. In spring of 2020 and again as the year wound down in December, federal stimulus fund payments were made directly to millions of Americans. However, those payments also included incidents of identity thefts by stealing the payments, reported as tax identity theft. “In 2020, the FTC got 89,390 reports of tax identity theft, compared with 27,450 reports in 2019. While many of the reports concerned other types of tax identity theft, the report numbers began to swell when distribution of the stimulus payments began.”
If someone has stolen your identity to gain access to your federal stimulus payment, the FTC has published guidelines to help you report the theft.
Rental Payment Scams
Scammers have taken advantage of the fact that many Americans are experiencing financial hardships and are having difficulty making their rent or mortgage payments. These scammers contact unsuspecting potential victims saying that they can help with rental or mortgage payments. And while there are organizations and charities out there that are in good faith assisting with these kinds of payments, consumers need to be on the lookout for scammers.
The FTC suggests that, “Scammers may call, email, or text, saying you can get money for rent. Or they may say they can get you legal help to avoid eviction. No matter what kind of help they promise, these scammers always tell you to give them money up front or hand over your personal information first. But those are dead giveaways that it’s a scam.”
With the rise of identity theft cases in the U.S. in 2020 and the fact that the coronavirus pandemic is still ravaging its way through this country, consumers should take extra steps to help secure their identity. Taking advantage of one’s free yearly credit report through annualcreditreport.com is a great way to see what your credit history entails and helps to identify possible fraud.