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March 2, 2021

Help fight COVID vaccine scams: Share these tips with those you know

March 2, 2021
by Colleen Tressler
Division of Consumer and Business Education, FTC

Since the start of the pandemic, people are spending a lot more time alone at home. What’s more, there’s a lot of confusion about when, how, and where to sign up and get vaccinated. Add those two things together, and you get scammers taking advantage and spreading false information, hoping isolated people will believe their lies.  

Today, we’re highlighting tips you can share to help people avoid COVID vaccine scams.

Don’t pay to sign up for the COVID vaccine. Anyone who asks for a payment to put you on a list, make an appointment for you, or reserve a spot in line is a scammer.

You can’t pay to get early access to the vaccine. That’s a scam.

On Medicare? You don’t have to pay to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Only scammers will ask you to pay.

Ignore sales ads for the vaccine. You can’t buy it – anywhere. It’s only available at federal- and state-approved locations.

Nobody legit will call, text, or email about the vaccine and ask for your Social Security, bank account, or credit card number. That’s a scam.

Now that you know fact from fiction, share what you know, and ask others to do the same. Sometimes a friendly call and conversation is all it takes to brighten someone’s day, help them feel connected, and ease their worry and confusion.

Learn more about COVID-related scams at ftc.gov/coronavirus/scams.

Sign up for consumer alerts at ftc.gov/alerts.

Tell us about scams you’re seeing at ReportFraud.ftc.gov

Thanks for being a friendly fraud fighter!

January 28, 2021

IRS offers guidance to taxpayers on identity theft involving unemployment benefits

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today urged taxpayers who receive Forms 1099-G for unemployment benefits they did not actually get because of identity theft to contact their appropriate state agency for a corrected form.

States issue Forms 1099-G to the taxpayer and to the IRS to report what taxable income, such as refunds or unemployment benefits, were issued by state agencies.

During 2020, millions of taxpayers were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic through job loss or reduced work hours. Some taxpayers who faced unemployment or reduced work hours applied for and received unemployment compensation from their state. Under federal law, unemployment benefits are taxable income.

However, scammers also took advantage of the pandemic by filing fraudulent claims for unemployment compensation using stolen personal information of individuals who had not filed claims. Payments made as a result of these fraudulent claims went to the identity thieves, and the individuals whose names and personal information were taken did not receive any of the payments.

Taxpayers who receive an incorrect Form 1099-G for unemployment benefits they did not receive should contact the issuing state agency to request a revised Form 1099-G showing they did not receive these benefits. Taxpayers who are unable to obtain a timely, corrected form from states should still file an accurate tax return, reporting only the income they received. A corrected Form 1099-G showing zero unemployment benefits in cases of identity theft will help taxpayers avoid being hit with an unexpected federal tax bill for unreported income.

The IRS previously issued guidance requested by states on identity theft guidance regarding unemployment compensation reporting. No Forms 1099-G should be issued to those individuals the states have identified as ID theft victims.

Know the signs of identity theft

Taxpayers do not need to file a Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit, with the IRS regarding an incorrect Form 1099-G. The identity theft affidavit should be filed only if the taxpayer's e-filed return is rejected because a return using the same Social Security number already has been filed.

See Identity Theft Central for more information about the signs of identity theft and general steps that should be taken.

Additionally, if taxpayers are concerned that their personal information has been stolen and they want to protect their identity when filing their federal tax return, they can request an Identity Protection Pin (IP PIN) from the IRS.

An Identity Protection PIN is a six-digit number that prevents someone else from filing a tax return using a taxpayer's Social Security number. The IP PIN is known only to the taxpayer and the IRS, and this step helps the IRS verify the taxpayer's identity when they file their electronic or paper tax return.

Reminder for those receiving unemployment benefits: Report your benefits when you file your tax return.

The IRS reminds taxpayers that unemployment benefits are taxable, and they should watch their mail for a Form 1099-G. In some states, taxpayers may be able to receive the Form 1099-G by visiting their state's unemployment website where they signed up for account benefits to obtain their account information.

Starting in January 2021, unemployment benefit recipients should receive a Form 1099-G, Certain Government Payments PDF from the agency paying the benefits. The form will show the amount of unemployment compensation they received during 2020 in Box 1, and any federal income tax withheld in Box 4. Taxpayers report this information, along with their W-2 income, on their 2020 federal tax return. For more information on unemployment, see Unemployment Benefits in Publication 525.


December 15, 2020: SCAM: Federal Reserve Calls

Sutton Bank has been made aware of a phone call scam that is currently circulating in the area where an individual receives a phone call with a recorded message about their bank accounts. The call is NOT from Sutton Bank, but references the Federal Reserve.  Typically, the call is coming from local numbers, and we have had the caller number reported either as 567-269-XXXX or 567-257-XXXX.

The recorded message says the following, “There are activities from your banking account into which there is a legal case being filed under your name. There is an arrest warrant being issued to the same. In order to talk to the law enforcement unit of the Federal Reserve system please press 1.”

Please be advised that this is a scam and please do not respond or provide any information on the call. If you receive the call, just hang up.

 

FDIC: Insured Bank Deposits are Safe

Beware of potential scams using the FDIC's name!

In light of recent developments related to the coronavirus, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) is reminding Americans that FDIC-insured banks remain the safest place to keep their money. The FDIC is also warning consumers of recent scams where imposters are pretending to be agency representatives to perpetuate fraudulent schemes.

During these unprecedented times, consumers may receive false information regarding the security of their deposits or their ability to access cash. The FDIC does not send unsolicited correspondence asking for money or sensitive personal information. The agency will never contact people asking for personal details, such as bank account information, credit and debit card numbers, Social Security numbers or passwords.

Consumers may also be contacted by persons who claim to be employed by an agency, bank, or another entity. These scams may involve a variety of communication channels, including emails, phone calls, letters, text messages, faxes, and social media. Scammers might also ask for personal information such as bank account numbers, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, and other details that can be used to commit fraud or sell a person's identity.

Consumers are also encouraged to contact the FDIC's Call Center at 1-877-ASK-FDIC (1-877-275-3342), Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (ET) if they have any questions or believe they have been a victim of fraud or a scam.

Police Advise Don't Abbreviate the Year 2020

The new year is giving scammers an easy way to forge documents, but you can protect yourself simply by writing out the full date. Check out this story from USATODAY.com.

Are you a victim of Identity Theft?

The FTC has a useful ID Theft Recovery Plan with steps to follow, located here.

2020 Census: Fact vs Fiction

November 14, 2019

by Colleen Tressler, Consumer Education Specialist, FTC

The Federal Trade Commission is partnering with the U.S. Census Bureau to help you guard against potential census scams. Knowing how the 2020 Census process works, what information you will — and won’t — be asked for, and some red flags will help you spot and report scams.

The Process

In mid-March 2020, the Census Bureau will start mailing out (and, in some areas, hand delivering) invitations to participate in the 2020 Census. You should get yours by April 1. You can respond online, by phone, or by mail.

The Census Bureau has an important job: to count every person living in the United States. Starting in May 2020, census takers will start visiting homes that haven’t responded to make sure everyone is counted. If you aren’t home or can’t come to the door, the census taker will come back up to six times. Each time, they’ll leave a door hanger with a phone number so you can call to schedule a visit.

The Questions

The census questionnaire asks how many people are in the home at the time you complete the form; their sex, age, race, ethnicity; their relationships to one another; phone number; and whether you own or rent the home. For the full list of questions on the 2020 Census, visit Questions Asked.

Signs of a Scam

Scammers may pose as census takers to get your personal information — and then use it to commit identity theft and other frauds. But there are ways you can identify official census takers.

Census takers must show a photo ID with the U.S. Department of Commerce seal and an expiration date. If you ask, the census taker will give you a supervisor’s contact information and/or the census regional office phone number for verification.

The Census Bureau will never ask for your full Social Security number, bank account or credit card numbers, money or donations, or anything on behalf of a political party. The 2020 Census will not ask citizenship status.

The Census Bureau may call you as part of their follow-up and quality control efforts. They also might call if you’re not home when a census taker stops by or when a personal visit is not convenient. Calls will come from one of the Census Bureau’s contact centers or from a field representative. Since we all know you can’t trust caller ID, visit How to identify a phone call from the Census Bureau for the phone numbers you can use to check out any calls you might get.

Make sure you have the latest and most accurate information about the 2020 Census. Visit 2020 Census Rumors to fact-check and ask questions.

If you suspect fraud, call 800-923-8282 to speak with a local Census Bureau representative. You also can file a report with the FTC at FTC.gov/Complaint. Your reports may help law enforcement agencies launch investigations that could stop imposters and other fraudsters in their tracks.

 FBI Warns of "Money Mule" Fraud

January 2019

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is warning about a new form of fraud that targets companies, schools and nonprofits around the United States. 

According to the Associated Press, “money mules” are individuals who (often) unknowingly use their bank accounts to transfer funds for criminals. The FBI is especially concerned about the people who become involved in international money laundering schemes that result in large economic losses.

“They trial and error this stuff, and they see what works and they see what doesn’t,” said FBI Supervisory Special Agent James Abbott. “It’s a much higher success rate when you have a lot of money using somebody else’s account going through there, instead of trying to cross the border with a physical transportation of cash.”

As a result, law enforcement agencies around the world have increased their efforts against money mule fraud. In fact, this month, Europol Opens a New Window.  announced that it had identified 1,504 money mules, arresting 168. The FBI revealed in June the arrests of 74 people, and launched a publicity campaign called “Don’t Be a Mule.”

One example of the fraud, according to the FBI, was a criminal posing as an overseas Army captain, who recruited a man he met online to help him make plans to travel home by transferring money in and out of his bank account. The agency noted that $10,000 was wired into the man’s account, which he was instructed to withdraw in small increments and send to a woman in Texas.

Since the mules are often elderly, lonely or confused, the FBI usually gives them stern warnings and skips prosecution.

“When we approach them and talk to them, and explain to them what they’ve been doing, a lot of times, the horror is there,” said Steven D’Antuono, an FBI section chief who specializes in financial crimes. “It’s all walks of life, all educational levels. Anyone can fall victim to this.”

Equifax Data Breach

Important Update: 2017 Cybersecurity Incident Settlement Reached


Equifax has reached a comprehensive resolution that includes a proposed class action settlement of the consumer class action litigation related to the 2017 cybersecurity incident. 

Visit www.EquifaxBreachSettlement.com for information on the Equifax Data Breach Settlement.

 

September 2017 (Original Alert)

Equifax, one of the three national consumer credit reporting agencies, announced a major data breach in 2017. This breach affected approximately 143 million Americans. This is what we know according to Equifax: the data breach occurred May – July 2017, and the information stolen includes consumers’ personally identifiable information, including names, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, addresses and, in some cases, driver’s license numbers. Approximately 209,000 credit card numbers and dispute documents with personally identifiable information for approximately 182,000 consumers were also stolen. There is no evidence of unauthorized access to consumers’ credit reporting databases.

To be clear, Sutton Bank was not compromised and your information was not stolen from our bank. However, Sutton Bank takes the security of our customer information very seriously, and we are providing you with the information we know about this massive breach and the steps you can take to protect your personally identifiable information if you so desire. Following this unprecedented breach, we are also asking our customers to be extra vigilant and report any suspicious activity in your Sutton Bank accounts to us by calling 800-422-3641.

Equifax has established a website that informs consumers if they may be affected by the breach, provides additional information on the breach, and offers complimentary identity theft protection and credit file monitoring. This information is available at www.equifaxsecurity2017.com. To protect your identity and personal information, we strongly encourages our customers to take the actions noted below.

Experian®
P.O. Box 9554
Allen, TX 75013 
888-397-3742
www.experian.com

TransUnion®
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016
800-680-7289
www.transunion.com

Equifax®
P.O. Box 740241
Atlanta, GA 30374
800-349-5191
www.equifax.com

You should also contact the credit reporting agencies to notify them of any suspected fraud or identity theft. Equifax has established a dedicated toll-free number to answer questions you may have about the Equifax data breach and its effect on your personally identifiable information. You may call them at 866-447-7559.

If you believe you are the victim of identity theft, contact your local law enforcement office and/or your state attorney general. Finally, you may also want to consider reviewing information about recovering from identity theft, which is available from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at https://www.identitytheft.gov/ or by calling 1-877-IDTHEFT (1-877-438-4338). The FTC also offers general information to protect your online presence at https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/topics/privacy-identity-online-security.

Common Types of Scams and Fraud & Classic Warning Signs

What are some common types of scams? The CFPB (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau) wants you to know!

Scammers are constantly finding new ways to steal your money. You can protect yourself by knowing what to look out for. 

 What are some classic warning signs of possible fraud and scams?

There are several signs that indicate you might be dealing with a scammer.

They include contact from someone:

  • Calling or emailing you, claiming to be from the government and asking you to pay money.
  • Asking you to pay money or taxes upfront to receive a prize or a gift. 
  • Asking you to wire them money, send money by courier, or put money on a prepaid card or gift card and send it to them.
  • Asking for access to your money-such as your ATM cards, bank accounts, credit cards, or investment accounts.
  • Pressuring you to "act now" or else the deal will go away. Or someone who seems to be trying hard to give you a "great deal" without time to answer your questions.  

To report a scam, you can submit a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. You can also contact your local police or sheriff's office or your state attorney general's office to report the scam. Visit the National Association of Attorneys General for the contact information of each state attorney general.

Tip: Remember that if something doesn't seem right, you can always hang up or walk away. Scammers often want you to make a quick decision without thinking about it. Slow down, do your own research about the offer or consult with someone you trust. 

  

How to be Safer When Using a Smartphone or Tablet

Everywhere you look, people are using smartphones and tablets as portable, hand-held computers. "Unfortunately, cybercriminals are also interested in using or accessing these devices to steal information or commit other crimes," said Michael Benardo, manager of the FDIC's Cyber Fraud and Financial Crimes Section. "That makes it essential for users of mobile devices to take measures to secure them, just as they would a desktop computer."

Here are some basic steps you can take to secure your mobile devices.

Avoid apps that may contain malware.

Buy or download from well-known app stores, such as those established by your phone manufacturer or cellular service provider. Consult your financial institution's website to confirm where to download its official app for mobile banking.

Keep your device's operating system and apps updated.

Consider opting for automatic updates because doing so will ensure that you have the latest fixes for any security weaknesses the manufacturer discovers. "Cybercriminals try to take advantage of known flaws, so keeping your software up to date will help reduce your vulnerability to foul play," said Robert Brown, a senior ombudsman specialist at the FDIC.

Consider using mobile security software and apps to protect your device.

For example, anti-malware software for smartphones and tablets can be purchased from a reputable vendor.

Use a password or other security feature to restrict access in case your device is lost or stolen.

Activate the "time out" or "auto lock" feature that secures your mobile device when it is left unused for a certain number of minutes. Set that security feature to start after a relatively brief period of inactivity. Doing so reduces the likelihood that a thief will be able to use your phone or tablet.

Back up data on your smartphone or tablet.

This is good to do in case your device is lost, stolen or just stops working one day. Data can easily be backed up to a computer or to a back-up service, which may be offered by your mobile carrier.

Have the ability to remotely remove data from your device if it is lost or stolen.

A "remote wipe" protects data from prying eyes. If the device has been backed up, the information can be restored on a replacement device or the original (if you get it back). A number of reputable apps can enable remote wiping.

 

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