‘People are desperate’: Fraudsters target vulnerable truckers with COVID scams

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Updated Jan 12, 2021

Since the COVID-19 coronavirus aid package the CARES Act was finalized by Congress late last month, small-fleet owner Carole Salyer says her phone has been ringing off the hook with offers for loans and cash.

“They’re scammers,” she said. “I bet I get 10 calls a day.”

She and her husband Don run the six-truck Donald Salyer Trucking, operated in partnership with J. Burtt Trucking. Carole said last week she applied for the forgivable loan options offered by the CARES Act’s Paycheck Protection Plan, which directs banks to provide funds to small businesses to use for payroll and rent. Those loans will then be forgiven and funded by the Small Business Administration, should companies maintain their number of full-time employees through June 30.

Carole applied for the loan through a legitimate lender, not through one of the many unsolicited calls.

Though she’s savvy enough to ward off fraudulent offers, she knows others might not be, or at least might be blinded by the coronavirus chaos. “People are desperate,” she said. “Some of these people I know are going to jump” at those calls, she said. “And they’re going to get scammed.”

Fraudsters and hackers are using the fear, uncertainty and confusion surrounding COVID-19 — and the corresponding economic fallout and aid programs from Washington — to exploit vulnerable small businesses, including owner-operators and small fleets. These grifters gain access to victims’ bank accounts or open new lines of credit in their name. In that case, they’d take the money and run, leaving the victims to pick up the pieces.

“The volume is cranked to the maximum level right now,” said Sam Kassoumeh, co-founder and COO of SecurityScorecard, which helps companies find and fix their security vulnerabilities. “Hackers are going into overdrive to try to use this window to exploit businesses.”

In addition to phone calls, in which scammers impersonate a lender or service provider hoping to “verify” personal information, they’re also using email, text messages and social media to attempt to swindle small business owners, says Kassoumeh.

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“By and large, 99.999% of these campaigns are fake,” he says. Fraudsters seek to obtain bank account numbers, Social Security numbers and other personal information they can use to steal identity or gain access to bank accounts.

To avoid falling victim, don’t click links in emails and texts from sources you don’t recognize. Don’t provide personal information, such as bank account and Social Security numbers, on any suspect phone calls.

Read more on how hackers operate at Overdrive‘s Cybersecurity 101 series in the links below.