New Uptick in Government Scams Post-Election

Older couple dealing with a scamDonald Trump won’t be the only one to shake things up. With a new president in the White House, scammers have fresh and convincing opportunities to take aim. Some schemes related to Trump policy and promises that you should expect, especially in coming weeks:

Grant scams. Whenever there’s a change in government leadership, there’s an increase in government aid scams. Reports to our Fraud Watch Network Helpline (877-908-3360 toll-free) have increased noticeably since the Nov. 8 election, says Amy Nofziger of AARP Foundation. Usually citing a “new government program,” fraudsters feign affiliation with name-recognized or make-believe agencies. They promise “free money” grants for many reasons — education or medical costs, home repairs, business expenses or unpaid bills, for example.

Some even claim to offer entitlements for doing what is expected or legally required, like paying income taxes on time. But the only money at stake is yours: You’re told you must pay up-front taxes or a processing fee to get the grant, and identity thieves collect sensitive ID information — including Social Security numbers and bank account details — under the guise of making a direct deposit.

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Health insurance scams. Add a third R to “repeal and replace” — rip-off. With plans (and confusion) about dismantling the Affordable Care Act, it’s prime time for fraudsters to phish for personal information and money, posing as representatives of insurance companies, health agencies or providers, even government agencies such as Medicare or the Social Security Administration. Expect, but don’t believe, phone calls, emails and social media posts about necessary updating or verifying of patient records, promising refunds or health care enhancements, or seeking payment (or arrangements) for future premiums.

Job scams. Another Trump rallying cry — “Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!” — could breathe new life into old schemes that promise a paycheck, but are another way to phish for ID theft-worthy details and money. Don’t be fooled by unsolicited offers by phone, email or social media posts that tout job opportunities with new government programs or employer incentives. Check government and corporate websites for legit openings. Also be wary on job websites and LinkedIn, where fraudsters pose as hiring managers and recruiters. Favorite tricks include soliciting sensitive information for make-believe background and credit checks (you could be asked to foot the bill); requesting up-front payment for supposed training materials, certifications or other job placement expenses; counterfeit checks (you’ll be asked to return a portion); and job offers without a face-to-face or telephone interview that request your bank account number for alleged direct deposit of paychecks.

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With President Trump will come changes in government practices and policy, but some things will remain the same:

  • The government won’t phone, text or email you unexpectedly. Federal agencies (along with insurance companies and employers) normally communicate through mailed letters. Don’t trust caller ID, “sender” email addresses or official-looking Facebook posts; they could be spoofed.
  • Unless you initiate contact, don’t provide sensitive information such as your name, address, birth date, SSN or financial account numbers. These are likely already on file with government agencies, and those seeking it unsolicited are scammers. 
  • You don’t pay for “free.” There are no fees to apply for government programs including grants, health insurance or jobs.
  • Read and listen for clues to a ruse: Government gotchas are often carefully scripted; callers may “read” rather than converse normally. Although fraudsters pose as being from well-known agencies (like the IRS and Medicare), they may simply invent an issuing agency such as the nonexistent “Federal Government Grants Department” or “U.S. Jobs Initiative.” Don’t be fooled if they address you by name or have some information about you; that could be pooled from public directories or an online search.

For information about other scams, sign up for the Fraud Watch Network. You’ll receive free email alerts with tips and resources to help you spot and avoid identity theft and fraud, and keep tabs of scams and law enforcement alerts in your area at our Scam-Tracking Map.

Photo: iStock/CREATISTA

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