NYers warned of text messaging scams offering pandemic relief, unemployment insurance

New York State

ALBANY, N.Y. (WTEN) – The New York State Division of Consumer Protection (DCP) is alerting New Yorkers to new text messaging scams seeking payments and sensitive personal information by offering fake grants, tax refunds, pandemic relief, and unemployment insurance payments.

“Throughout this public health crisis, scammers have been hard at work preying on unsuspecting New Yorkers,” said Secretary of State Rossana Rosado, who oversees the Division of Consumer Protection. “This latest batch of scams prey on New Yorkers seeking pandemic relief by spoofing official government agencies. I urge all New Yorkers to be extra diligent and follow simple steps to keep your money and personal information safe.”

Scammers preying on consumers’ interest in pandemic relief programs are impersonating state and federal government agencies by enticing consumers to click on website links containing official-sounding text such as “pandemic stimulus relief,” “Treasury Department,” and “government payment.”  Consumers may also receive a phone call claiming they are a victim of identity theft and then receive the alarming text message, further confirming the “problem.”

After clicking the links from the text messages, consumers arrive at official looking websites designed to impersonate federal agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service or the Social Security Administration and New York State agencies, including the Department of Labor regarding unemployment payments or the Department of Health regarding contact tracing.  These sites solicit bank information and other sensitive personal details such as social security numbers, driver’s license numbers and bank account logins/passwords to enable the consumers to “accept payment.”

Sample of actual text messages:

  • Treasury Fund Payment: “You have received a direct deposit of $1,200 from COVID-19 Treasury Fund. Further action is required to accept this payment into your account.”
  • COVID Relief Grant: “The IRS has deemed you eligible for the current COVID relief grant sponsored by the Treasury Clearinghouse, you stand a chance of getting a minimum of $100000 for being a regular tax payer, agent Davies Gran has been assigned.  Click the link below”
  • Unemployment Claim: “You have pending claim of $1,200 from covid-19 TREAS 310 tax ref.  Further action is required to disburse funds. Click here to confirm payment method:”
  • Stimulus Help: “From IRS-GO: You are eligible – Register for COVID-19 Stimulus Help MSG#: 123455668”

Collaborating with New York State’s Division of Consumer Protection and several federal government agencies, telecommunications carriers have blocked thousands of these fake text messages using sophisticated algorithms to look for keywords, malicious activity, and other trends.  As the pandemic continues and the holidays approach, consumers should be mindful of increasing scam activity.

To prevent falling victim to these types of scams, please take note of the following tips:

  • Do not click links in suspect texts or emails. These lead to convincing impersonation websites attempting to collect your sensitive personally identifiable information.
  • Call the government agency directly to confirm communications, if you are concerned. 
  • Hang up the phone immediately if someone unexpectedly calls claiming to be from any government agency and threatens police arrest, deportation or license revocation.

Additional information related to New York State agencies:

  • Text messages from the New York State Department of Labor will only come from the number 468-311 OR via DocuSign. A DOL representative will never reach out directly through a text message. If someone claims to be a DOL representative over text, please block and alert the DOL. NEVER give your SSN over social media – we will NOT ask for this information on social media. The DOL urges anyone who believes they have been a victim of fraud to report it immediately.
  • NYS Department of Health may contact you as “NYS Contact Tracing” (518-387-9993). Please answer the phone. Answering the phone will keep your loved ones and community safe.

Additional information related to federal agencies:

  • Federal agencies will typically first initiate contact with constituents via mail. Federal agencies do not request personal or financial information through text message or email and will not ask for credit card numbers over a phone call they initiate.
  • Contact the agency directly
    • Internal Revenue Service (IRS): 1-800-829-1040
    • Social Security Administration (SSA): 1-800-772-1213

If you encounter a marketplace problem or are concerned about a scam, you are encouraged to call or file a complaint with the Division of Consumer Protection. 

The New York State Division of Consumer Protection serves to educate, assist and empower the State’s consumers. The Consumer Helpline, 800-697-1220, is available to assist consumers Monday through Friday, 8:30am-4:30pm. Consumer complaints can be filed anytime online. To view consumer alerts, consumers can visit https://www.dos.ny.gov/about/newsroom.html. The Division can also be reached via Twitter at @NYSConsumer or on Facebook.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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