With the government doling out trillions of dollars to blunt the economic pain of the pandemic, these are good times for thieves and dangerous times for those who actually need the money, The New York Times reports. “I’ve been in this space for over 30 years and I have not seen anything like this in my entire career,” said Eva Velasquez of the Identity Theft Resource Center, a San Diego-based nonprofit that helps victims. “The scope, the scale, the speed and the efficiency of the scams is breathtaking.” Criminals have used people’s Social Security numbers, home addresses and other personal information — much of which was online from past data breaches — to assume their identities and bilk them out of their stimulus checks and unemployment benefits. Calls to Velasquez’s organization were 850 percent higher in March than a year earlier.
The scale of the fraud has been enormous, fueled by the economic crisis and the confusion surrounding President Donald Trump’s $2 trillion stabilization plan. That has been compounded by the government’s lack of security measures for people claiming stimulus payments, with those going through the Internal Revenue Service website to get their checks needing to input just a few pieces of information that scammers can readily obtain. The Federal Trade Commission got four times as many complaints about identity fraud in the first few weeks of April than the previous three months combined. Before the outbreak, losses from identity theft were enormous. Criminals made around $16.9 billion from identity fraud last year, says the data firm Javelin. The credit reporting agency Experian recently found a fresh batch of stolen data for three million people, containing all the pieces of personal information that a scammer would need to file for their stimulus checks.