Nearly a quarter of unemployed Americans say they’ve been contacted by COVID-19 scammers

Young woman at home filing for California unemployment benefits on her laptop Image: Young woman at home filing for California unemployment benefits on her laptop

In a Nutshell

In a nationally representative May survey of Americans experiencing unemployment, Credit Karma found nearly one-quarter (22%) of survey respondents reported being contacted by scammers during the coronavirus pandemic. Getting scammed is a real concern for many — 25% of those we surveyed worry they’ll be the victim of an unemployment payment or stimulus check scam. Scammers may be eager to take advantage of the current situation, but we’ve got some tips to help make you aware of how they’re operating and what you can do to help protect yourself from bad actors.

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Nearly one-quarter (22%) of unemployed Americans said they’ve been targeted by scams related to COVID-19, according to a May Credit Karma survey. 

Among those who said they were targeted by scammers, the most frequently used methods were phone calls and emails. But nearly one-third (32%) of those surveyed said they’d been texted by scammers. And an alarming 1 in 10 survey respondents reported that their mail had been stolen. (Learn more about our methodology.)

It’s clear, based on survey results, that scammers are active and looking to take advantage of the current situation. If you’re worried about bad actors wasting your time or money during already-stressful times, you’re not alone. Read on for more of what our survey found along with tips on how to watch out for COVID-19 scams and how to help protect your personal information.

Key survey findings

Nearly one-quarter of unemployed Americans from our survey (22%) say they’ve been contacted by a COVID-19 scammer, meaning a scammer tried to reach out to them regarding unemployment benefits or stimulus payments.
Scammers are using various methods to contact unemployed Americans. Nearly half (48%) of survey respondents were contacted via email or phone call, while almost a third (32%) received a text message and 1 in 5 (20%) were contacted through social media.
Of those who said they’ve been contacted by scammers, the age group with the highest percentage was Gen Z (28%), but millennials (21%) and Gen X and older (17%) are being targeted, too.
One-quarter of unemployed Americans (25%) are afraid they’ll be the victim of an unemployment payment or stimulus check scam.

Who are scammers targeting, and how?

According to our survey, scammers are targeting many people right now, using a variety of methods. Here’s a breakdown of unemployed Americans who say they’ve been contacted by a COVID-19 scammer.

  • Gender doesn’t appear to be a factor. We saw a fairly even split of 22% of unemployed men and 21% of unemployed women reporting that a scammer had contacted them.
  • Income doesn’t seem to be a factor either. Of survey respondents who reported making less than $50,000 per year, 22% said they were contacted by scammers — the same percentage of those making more than $50,000 annually.
  • Age might be a factor. A higher percentage of Gen Zers reported being contacted, at 28%. Almost one-quarter of millennials (21%) and nearly 1 in 5 respondents Gen X or older (17%) also reported being contacted.
  • Employment status could also be a factor. A higher percentage of respondents who reported being permanently laid off said they were contacted by a scammer compared to those who were temporarily laid off or furloughed (24% vs. 21%), according to survey results.

As the stats above show, scammers are trying to contact a lot of people using a number of different methods — even stealing people’s mail. Here’s a breakdown of how scammers are contacting people based on survey results.

  1. Email (48%)
  2. Phone call (48%)
  3. Text message (32%)
  4. Social media (20%)
  5. Direct mail (17%)
  6. Mail theft (10%)

Tips for steering clear of scammers

If you’re like the 25% of the unemployed Americans we surveyed who are afraid of being targeted by scammers, it’s understandable. But we’ve got some tips that can help make you aware of possible scams.

Know what a scam might look like right now 

The Federal Trade Commission is advising people on how to avoid coronavirus-related scams. In particular, it’s important not to respond to a call, email or text about a government check. You should also be suspicious of emails claiming to be from a government agency, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization — or automated phone calls trying to sell you something related to relief measures.

Meanwhile, the IRS recently issued a warning about coronavirus-related tax scams, advising the public to be suspicious of anyone who asks you to give out personal information in order to get a stimulus payment or stimulus check. When it comes to scams related to stimulus check payments, we’ve got some other tips on what to watch out for.

Know how to keep your personal information more secure online

Although it’s impossible to anticipate every potential scam, there are a few best practices you can follow to help keep your personal information more secure online.

  1. Monitor your credit reports and be prepared to freeze your credit if needed. You can sign up for free credit monitoring on Credit Karma. We’ll notify you if we see any changes on your Equifax or TransUnion credit reports so that you can check for suspicious activity. You can also ask the three major consumer credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — to freeze or lock your credit reports for free any time.
  2. Keep your passwords secure. It can be tempting to use the same password a few times or use easy-to-remember numbers like your birthday. But a password made up of multiple short words or phrases might be tougher for scammers to guess. Consider using a password manager to keep track of all your passwords.
  3. Add multifactor authentication whenever possible. For an extra layer of verification, consider setting up two-factor authentication for any site or account that offers it. This will require you to first log in with your password, and then confirm your identity by entering a code often sent to you via email or text.

Know where to turn for legitimate relief

The U.S. government and financial institutions have been working to help Americans affected by COVID-19. If you’re wondering where to go for relief, check out our links to help point you toward actual relief rather than scam sites.


Methodology

On behalf of Credit Karma, in May 2020 Qualtrics conducted a nationally representative online survey of 1,022 unemployed U.S. adults to better understand awareness of government unemployment and stimulus benefits. Unemployed respondents do not include full-time students or retirees.


About the author: Paris Ward is a content strategist at Credit Karma, providing readers with the latest news that will aid their financial progress. She has more than a decade of experience as a writer an… Read more.