The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have now stated that it has seen an increase in pandemic related fraudulent unemployment insurance claims.
It was warned in March, at the onset of the pandemic, that identity theft would be a by-product of having a growing number of people homeworking.
Those warnings, say recent reports, have translated to a major increase in scams aiming to steal stolen identities so as to file phony unemployment claims.
The FBI warned Mon. that it has seen a rise in phony unemployment claims, which it believes is tied to personally identifiable information taken during the ongoing pandemic crisis.
The warning via the FBI comes just a few weeks after the Federal Trade Commission said that it has received over 105,000 complaints around COVID-19 fraud, with about half related to lost money. This meant $68 million in money lost to scams; the latest figures, which include numbers to July 6, suggest the US total fraud loss is nearer to $78 million.
The FBI didn’t describe exactly how attackers are accessing the stolen PII – it suggests it could be through usual methods, either buying it online, taking advantage of prior data breaches, intrusions, email phishing, or cold-calling victims using an impersonation method.
After that, the attackers are taking the data & using it to file unemployment claims.
The FBI suggests that most victims don’t realise their information has been compromised until they wish to file a claim for unemployment insurance benefits, receive an IRS form 1099-G, which recaps benefits collected from unemployment insurance or receive a notification, either from their current employer or the state unemployment insurance agency that something is happening.
Added on to usual vigilance that individuals should exercise such as monitoring your bank accounts, using caution when opening up attachments, & being wary of anyone trying to get you to give out your personal information, the FBI is encouraging individuals to be on the lookout for the following suspicious activities:
- Receiving communications regarding unemployment insurance forms when you have not applied for unemployment benefits
- Unauthorised transactions on your bank or credit card statements related to unemployment benefits
- Any fees involved in filing or qualifying for unemployment insurance
- Unsolicited inquires related to unemployment benefits
- Fictitious websites & social media pages imitating those of government agencies
That US authorities are seeing growth in data theft associated with the pandemic should be unsurprising.
The US Secret Service warned in May that a non-US fraud ring may have been responsible for one campaign in which identities are stolen & used to fool the US unemployment system. A report in the New York Times explained the scam, which relies on stolen social security nos, & commented it could result in “potential losses in the 100s of millions of dollars.” A memo obtained by the paper mentioned attacks observed in Washington State, Florida, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island & Wyoming.
Hackers are also now looking to benefit from stolen medical data from biotechnology firms working on potential COVID-19 treatments.
Bill Evanina, the Director of the US National Counter-intelligence & Security Center, called on US research facilities, hospitals, & pharmaceutical companies to strengthen their systems to protect their research against China & other nation states that could want to steal biotech data.
The uncertainty introduced by the pandemic has also added to data loss internally at companies too. With employees now working from home more than ever before, workers are also moving data, most of it considered classified, onto USB storage devices, cloud storage services, & as attachments in email, too.