A Summer is often a time for vacations and relaxed schedules, longer days with family barbecues and carefree gatherings. It can also be a time when we let down our guard and are not as vigilant with overseeing our credit card statements or bank account balances.
Unfortunately, scammers work overtime to find new ways to steal our private identifying information. This is called identity theft. Scammers use our information to open new accounts and purchase items without our knowledge.
These nefarious acts can negatively impact our finances, our credit history and our ability to obtain loans. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) provides consumers information about the various types of scams that are prevalent. They also have information on their website about what to do if you’ve been a victim of identity theft.
A Personal Story
A friend of mine, Sarah (names have been changed), recently shared a very jarring story about identity theft and fraudulent activity involving Steve, her husband. Steve’s name, address, and social security information were all readily available with a quick online search. A fraudster in Fort Worth, TX was able to access information from the Small Business Administration (SBA), the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), the local SBA office, the credit bureau and the US government.
The scammer used part of their last name Skog, her husband’s social security number, and address to create a fictional agricultural company in Wisconsin (Skog Farm).
This incident occurred during the time of the Covid-19 pandemic when many of the usual SBA and banking regulations were relaxed in order to help small business owners who were financially strapped for cash. These new regulations enabled the scammer to secure a loan of approximately $150,000 in the fictional name, address, and social security number, of Steve and the fictional farm company.
The Scheme is Uncovered
Sarah first noticed the oddity when she received a loan payment notice for a small amount from the local SBA billing department. She assumed this was a scam and threw it out.
Shortly after, she received another notice with a large payment due for the PPP loan. Feeling very disturbed, angry and confused, she shared it with Steve
Reaching out to the SBA, she discovered that in fact there was, a loan in this fictional name using their home address. Sarah was told she’d have to discuss the situation with SBA and an attorney who administered the PPP loans.
With considerable panic and frustration, Sarah and Steve were able to work with the SBA attorney and local police to remove the obligation from their names, but not without significant emotional toll and legwork that never should have happened.
The moral of this story is that the combination of multiple organizations, relaxed regulations and bad actors can wreak havoc in your life.
What You Can Do
Don’t just toss what looks like junk mail. Give it a quick review, just to be aware of what’s landing in your mailbox. It can happen to anyone. Don’t forget to consider all fronts, not just electronic accounts. Your entire financial picture is important.
Seek assistance with managing your finances if needed. Set up notifications (ie. email or text alerts) on bank accounts and credit cards. It’s a good idea to have a trusted contact listed on your accounts as well.
It’s important to be vigilant and monitor all of your accounts. This includes:
- possibly freezing your credit at all three credit reporting agencies (the scammer was able to utilize a credit pull from only one of the credit bureaus – unnoticed, as SBA regulations only required one)
- regularly changing passwords
- setting up two factor authentication
- monitoring your credit report using the three organizations who manage this (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) once a year, if not more often,
- checking mail carefully.
Once you’ve put alerts into place and have done the necessary monitoring of your accounts (along with those of family members and loved ones), you can sit back and relax. It’s time to enjoy these summer months with the peace of mind that comes from being vigilant about your personal identifying information and finances.