Contact 2: Scammers targeting your identity, government COVID relief programs

Contact 2

FRANKLIN COUNTY, Mo. – When it comes to the mail, looks can be deceiving. Just ask Franklin County resident Nicole Birkmann.

“This has my name on it. It has my address. It says the word ‘farm.’ I don’t own a farm. I don’t have a small business,” Birkmann said.

Which is why she figured a letter saying she’d been granted a Small Business Administration Disaster Loan was junk mail; albeit official-looking junk mail.

“I didn’t request a disaster loan. I did not apply for this money. I have not received this money,” Birkmann said.

But when September turned to October and then November, the letters continued to come.

“I realized these aren’t going to stop and I probably need to look into it further,” Birkmann said.

Better Business Bureau investigator Rebecca Phoenix said if this has happened to you, it’s likely someone has already applied for a loan in your name.

Phoenix said local consumers like Nicole are being victimized by scammers applying for fraudulent Economic Injury Disaster Loans and other CARES Act funds in their names.

“I think it’s roughly $78 billion represented in those applications that went to potentially fraudulent or illegible applicants,” she said.

Phoenix said the FBI is investigation some of these cases. In a statement, authorities at the FBI St. Louis office say, “Catching fraud as soon as it happens not only increases the likelihood of catching the scammers, it also limits their ability to further exploit your stolen identity.”

“You need to keep track of the documentation until you have a final decision reached,” Phoenix said. “In the meantime, you could be receiving text messages or emails or other contacts about the payment and these could potentially be from scammers as well, so don’t give them any personal or financial information.”

The Small Business Administration is also investigating. A spokesperson for the agency says, “Coordinated efforts with federal partners help strengthen internal controls to mitigate the occurrence of fraud occurring in the Economic Injury Disaster Loan and Paycheck Protection Program.”

“it’s a sad situation but they are investigating it. I just wanted to make sure people were aware that this is happening,” Birkmann said.

There’s hope Birkmann won’t be held responsible for the fraudulent loan opened in her name. We’ll keep track of her case. This isn’t the first time her identity was stolen.

If you’ve been an identity theft victim, you’re likely more vulnerable to fraud. The BBB recommends monitoring your credit report and taking any letter like Birkmann received seriously.

To obtain information, or to report a scam, contact members of the Task Force.

  • Better Business Bureau Serving Eastern and Southwest Missouri and Southern Illinois – (888) 996-3887;
  • Federal Trade Commission – (877) FTC-HELP (382-4357);
  • Federal Bureau of Investigations – (314) 589-2500
  • Illinois Attorney General – (800) 243-0618;
  • Illinois Secretary of State – Securities Department – 800-628-7937
  • Missouri Attorney General – (800) 392-8222;
  • St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department – (314) 231-1212;
  • U.S. Attorney, Eastern District of Missouri – (314) 539-2200;
  • U.S. Postal Inspection Service – (877) 876-2455;
  • U.S. Secret Service – (314) 539-2238;

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Contact 2 has resolved consumer complaints totaling millions of dollars over the years. Those cases have not only brought peace of mind to the consumers who asked Contact 2 for help, but also shed light on allegations of deception and wrongdoing levied against businesses, contractors and government agencies.

Our team focuses on gathering the facts about what happened. The process involves seeking out both sides of the story. It’s not always what consumers want to hear, but we have an obligation to be fair to the entity accused of causing the problem. Working to clearly understand the details is an important part of the job. Sometimes these cases can be resolved quickly. Other times, Contact 2 will spend weeks or months getting to the bottom of the problem. We appreciate the patience of those who’ve asked us to help them.

While dealing with the complaints of individual consumers is a big part of the job for Contact 2, we’re also dedicated to informing consumers of the latest scams, rip-offs and fraud schemes. Technology has made it easier than ever for criminals to target consumers. Contact 2 monitors reports of this activity around the world to help arm the public with tools to protect their personal information and hard- earned money. We share that information with consumers on-air and online.

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