The federal government partial shutdown, now stretching into its second month, has impacted some 800,000 federal employees and their families, leaving them without paychecks – and potentially vulnerable to scammers taking advantage of the situation.
Law enforcement agencies and others are reporting scams targeting the public, including furloughed employees. Complicating the issue is that the Federal Trade Commission, which targets scam artists and robocallers, is one of the agencies currently shut down.
Whether you’re impacted by the shutdown, here are some of the scams being reported, and what you can do to help keep your personal information safe:
Government agency scams. In this scam, people are contacted by phone or email by someone claiming to be from a government office or agency, and implying that federal benefits such as Social Security or Medicaid will stop unless they receive your bank information for verification. The scam artists may “spoof ” their phone number so it appears to be local on your caller ID.
In general, government agencies will not contact you unless you request it, and they will never request personal information over phone or email.
Loan or grant scams. Scammers tell you you’re pre-approved for a loan or grant; they just need your banking information to know where to send the money. They may send emails appearing to be from your bank or another financial institution, asking that you log in to your account or containing links or attachments.
Side job offer scams. Online employment ads and websites may offer temporary jobs for furloughed employees. You’re asked to divulge information like email addresses, phone numbers and even Social Security numbers. Some ads and websites may ask you to pay an application fee or say you’re required to pay for certification or training materials.
“Employers and employment firms shouldn’t ask you to pay for the promise of a job,” according to the FTC website (which is still operating).
Here are some general recommendations to follow when evaluating potential phone or email scams, including the ones above:
— Never divulge any personal or banking information via phone or email.
— If you receive a call from a number you don’t recognize – even if it’s similar to yours – let it go to voice mail. If you do answer, and the caller claims to be from a government agency or company, do not provide any personal information – just hang up. If you question whether the call is legitimate, contact the government agency or company directly using the number listed on their web site.
— If you receive an email you aren’t sure about, hover over the sender address to see if it is connected to the bank, financial institution or government agency it claims to be coming from. Check for clues such as poor spelling or grammar, or leaving off your name and other information.
— Do not click on any links or attachments through email. If you need to log in to your account, delete the email and do so through the company or bank’s web site.
— Be wary of emails offering jobs you haven’t applied for. Research the company and check its web site to see if the job is posted.
— Use common sense. If something looks too good to be true, it likely is.
— You can report scams to the Better Business Bureau and your state attorney general’s office. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is also open and accepting complaints during the shutdown.
It’s always a good idea to check your credit reports regularly, but if you believe you could be the victim of a financial scam, checking your credit reports may help you spot signs of potential fraud or suspicious activity. You’re entitled to a free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each of the three nationwide credit bureaus by visiting www.annualcreditreport.com.
The information contained in this blog post is designed to generally educate and inform visitors to the Equifax Finance Blog. The blog posts do not give, and should not be assumed to provide, personalized tax, investment, real estate, legal, retirement, credit, personal financial, or other professional advice. Before making any financial decision, you should always consult with the appropriate professionals who can explain your options, rights, and legal responsibilities, and advise you on any tax, legal, credit, or business implications that may result from those decisions. The views and opinions expressed by the authors of blog posts are their own views and may not be the views or opinions of Equifax, Inc. and/or its affiliates.