Privacy Tip #312 -Impersonation Fraud Increased During Pandemic

Another fall-out from the pandemic is that impersonation fraud has increased dramatically. According to the Federal Trade Commission, “the COVID-19 pandemic has spurred a sharp spike in impersonation fraud, as scammers capitalize on confusion and concerns around shifts in the economy stemming from the pandemic.” Impersonation fraud costs “have increased an alarming 85 percent year-over-year, with $2 billion in total losses between October 2020 and September 2021.”

The impersonation fraud scammers use different types of communication to try to get a victim to provide them with personal information that they can then use for fraud, or to obtain money. The scammers try to “trick their targets that they are the government or an established business and then trade on this trust to steal their identity or money.”

The fraudsters usually start the scheme asserting a position of authority to try to scare the victim into believing they owe money for some past debt, to the IRS or the police, for example. Or they try to trick the users into believing there is a problem with a business account (for example, a utility) and that service will be discontinued if they don’t send gift cards right away.

Using scare tactics has worked, to the tune of losses of up to $2 billion. A lot of people have been victimized by these scams, as the average cost of the loss is $1,000.

It has become so “pernicious and prevalent” that the FTC has published Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking comments from the public answering questions about the details of the schemes that have been affecting victims so they can learn more about the schemes to assist consumers to protect themselves against them, while also gathering information for enforcement actions against fraudsters.

If you have been the victim of an impersonation scheme or fraud, help the FTC by providing information so it can catch the bad guys and prevent them from hurting someone else.