‘Imposter scams’ targeting Ohioans online and with texts

ajc.com

It’s the season for fake-IRS messages and other attempted ruses

When strangers pretend to be trusted institutions or people, that’s an “imposter scam” — and both the state of Ohio and the Better Business Bureau are warning residents about the technique being used in recent scams.

Ohioans need to be careful about unsolicited texts and links they may receive from probable scammers, via fake websites in particular. Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) Interim Director Matt Damschroder said scammers are using fake websites that closely resemble the agency’s official site to try and steal personal and banking information from people applying for unemployment.

The addresses of the fake websites in question are: unemployment-ohio-gov.com and ohio-gov.cn.

“We know that individuals are receiving text messages and emails that link to these phony websites. It’s important to pay attention to know whether they are legitimate,” Damschroder said. “Please look closely before clicking sites that look like the real deal but aren’t.”

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A state review found that a Russian server houses the website, using a Chinese domain name. Customers alerted the department to the illegitimate site ohio-gov.cn.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost informed ODJFS about the fake site, unemployment-ohio-gov.com.

Fraud has been a lingering problem for Ohio and other states as millions of newly unemployed people turned to government for financial help during the pandemic. Ohio identified in December 2020 more than $330 million in fraudulent unemployment benefit payments, according to state officials then.

The state’s newest warning is coming at a time when the Better Business Bureau is also warning of scams perpetrated by those pretending to be legitimate institutions or people — utilities, tech support, contests offering real prizes, family members who suddenly “need help” and the like.

“Year over year, it (imposter scams) have been one of our top scams,” John North, president and chief executive of the Better Business Bureau in Dayton, said in an interview. “There are so many of them.”

According to the Federal Trade Commission, imposter scams were the most widely attempted scam last year, with nearly 500,000 reports of such efforts The total amount reported lost was $1.2 billion and the median loss was $850.

The Better Business Bureau had 2,243 imposter scams reported to its “scam tracker” in 2020. Of those, 183 were reported in Ohio.

Phone calls or texts from imposter IRS agents or messages are common attempted ruses, North said. “It’s the right season,” he noted. Federal Individual tax returns and income tax payments are due by May 17.

The IRS says it will not call to demand immediate payment of taxes. Generally, the IRS says it will first mail a bill to any taxpayer who owes taxes.

Neither will the IRS threaten to call police or demand that anyone pay taxes without an opportunity to question or appeal the amount owed.

“The IRS is not going to send you a text,” North said.

He also advised residents to be wary of any unsolicited offer to update or “fix” a computer. The ruse attempts to send a link or get users to click on a pop-up box that gives the unscrupulous access to contacts and personal information.

To avoid fraud, ODJFS says Ohioans should:

  • Ignore all unsolicited text messages and never click on hyperlinks in emails or text messages that look suspicious.
  • Log in each week to your account and review personal information such as physical address, email address, and banking information.
  • Remember that ODJFS will not contact residents to ask for your username or password.

If individuals notice a change in their account information, they should report immediately by calling (833) 658-0394, the state said.