A new wave of Paycheck Protection Program loans provides a lifeline for small businesses.
And yet another opportunity for scammers to steal money and private information from those who need relief the most.
Law enforcement officials have warned about new scams since the first wave of PPP loans, part of Congress’ CARES Act. Unfortunately, the fraud attacks are becoming common.
The first step to stay safe: know who you’re dealing with. Scammers often pose as the Small Business Administration, the federal agency overseeing the loans, or as financial institutions administering the payouts.
“Imposters will pave a smooth and compelling path for you to give away your information, and in doing so, giving away your tied assets,” said Kenneth Valentine, Corporate Security senior director for Regions Bank. “Before you act on an unsolicited text or email, consider some source verification steps toward authentication.”
Scammers may ask for payment up front or private information, like bank account or Social Security numbers. Or they may include a link in an email or text for you to apply. A phishing attempt during the first wave of PPP loans last April included the SBA logo with instructions to download “documents we need you to sign for the Paycheck Protection Program” – a nefarious attempt to seize sensitive business information.
Staying safe is just a matter of staying aware of what’s going on. Consider these tips from the SBA and the Federal Trade Commission:
- Be skeptical of an unsolicited email or call from someone claiming to be from the SBA. The agency does not initiate contact to find out about you or your business, or to offer loans
- Don’t give personal information such as your Social Security or bank account number to someone who calls, emails or texts you out of the blue
- Don’t pay in advance for a government loan or information about a loan program. Guidance on the PPP and other coronavirus resources for small businesses is available for free from the SBA
- Be alert to signs of spoofing. Fraudsters use the SBA logo or familiar corporate branding to make emails and websites appear authentic. Carefully check email and website addresses; a legitimate SBA page or message will have the domain sba.gov.
- Don’t apply for a PPP loan without confirming that the lender is SBA authorized. The agency has an online search tool you can use to find eligible lenders (https://www.sba.gov/paycheckprotection/find)
- Don’t click on links or download files from an email or text unless you’re 100 percent sure of where it’s from. Links or attachments may be ploys to deliver malware to your device.
“Remember: it’s OK to be skeptical and suspicious of requests of this type,” said Jeff Taylor, head of commercial fraud forensics for Regions Bank. “This is your information, your identity, and your money. Take advantage of every tactic to protect it all.”
If you suspect fraud, connect with the SBA’s Office of Inspector General at this website (https://www.sba.gov/about-sba/oversight-advocacy/office-inspectorgeneral/office-inspector-general-hotline) or call 800-767-0385. You can also file a complaint with the FTC (http://www.ftc.gov/complaint).
The information presented is general in nature and should not be considered, legal, accounting or tax advice. Regions reminds its customers that they should be vigilant about fraud and security and that they are responsible for taking action to protect their computer systems. Fraud prevention requires a continuous review of your policies and practices, as the threat evolves daily. There is no guarantee that all fraudulent transactions will be prevented or that related financial losses will not occur. Visit regions.com/STOPFRAUD or speak with your Banker for further information on how you can help prevent fraud.