Taking back the ID

Fraudsters use states' COVID-19 lotteries to swipe PII, money

Suzy Colombo received a call from a supposed state agency employee who said she’d won a $10,000 cash prize in a COVID-19 incentive program. To claim the prize, the caller told Suzy that she had to send a $1,000 gift card for an “upfront fee” and provide her banking financial information that the agency would use to deposit the fee and prize. Soon after, she discovered her bank account had a zero balance.

This case is fictional, but according to the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) scammers are indeed posing as government officials to tell victims they’re winners of state lotteries for motivating reluctant citizens to receive COVID-19 vaccinations. Of course, the fraudsters then ask for bank account details, Social Security numbers and other personally identifiable information (PII) to enable identity theft schemes. (See COVID-19 lottery and sweepstakes scams target vaccine recipients, ITRC.)

Several U.S. states offered cash and attractive gift incentives to the vaccine-reluctant.

West Virginia dangled college scholarships, pickup trucks and cash. Minnesota provided state park passes, fishing licenses, and state fair and regional amusement park tickets.

Arkansas proffered over $19 million in cash prizes. New York offered 50 scholarships to those aged 12 to 17 that covered tuition, room and board for four years at any New York public college or university. California provided $116.5 million in incentives, including a grand prize of $15 million to be split among 10 of the state’s vaccinated citizens.

Cybercriminals are pleased with these new opportunities to initiate schemes to rob eager individuals out of their PII. (See States have been offering big prizes for those who are vaccinated. Companies are now doing the same, by Malika Kallingal, CNN Business, May 28, 2021.)

The ITRC provides this advice:

  • Be alert for anyone asking for banking and personal information that can lead to financial identity theft.
  • Never pay money to receive money especially in a contest, sweepstakes or lottery.
  • Check with your state’s department of public health or lottery authority to verify legitimacy.
  • Victims can contact the ITRC at 888.400.5530, or on live chat via idtheftcenter.org.
  • Report phishing emails, texts or phone calls to the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov/complaint.

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