Fraud and Identity Theft in the Time of COVID-19

Kathryn MurphyLet's Talk About MoneyLeave a Comment

Our country is currently experiencing an enormous increase in fraud schemes and identity thefts related to COVID-19. Fraud schemes include everything from selling fake cures online to phishing emails posing as the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to malicious websites and apps that appear to share coronavirus information but actually lock your devices until you pay a ransom, to seeking donations for illegitimate or non-existent charities. Every state is experiencing spikes in unemployment fraud – someone using your name and social security number to file for unemployment benefits. And let’s not forget the granddaddy of them all – filing a fraudulent income tax return using your Social Security Number in order to receive a refund.

To help prevent yourself from becoming a victim of identity theft (when someone illegally poses as you, usually to get money, one of the most popular COVID fraud schemes) there are proactive steps you can take going forward to safeguard your personal information.

  • First, shred or burn everything and anything that has any of the following information: your name, address, date of birth, Social Security Number, name of a pet, or anything that might identify either you or your passwords to the entrepreneurial crook. If you don’t have a shredder, buy one. It’s cheaper than identity theft insurance, and much more helpful. Crosscut is best. And even better, those shreddings can be added to your compost heap to help aerate the compost and break it down.
  • Next, always answer a phone call from your credit card company fraud department. If they leave a message, call them back, after first checking on their website that the number is legitimate. Make sure you keep track of the messages they send you within their website. The credit card companies are on the hook for fraudulent charges and want to limit them as much as they can. They may be keeping closer track of your charges than you are.
  • Third, set up two-step authentication for all your credit card, bank, and utility accounts. It’s a major pain in the bahookie to have to wait for an email or a text from the company to make sure you are you, but it’s far preferable to dealing with the months and years of trying to fix identity theft and fraud.
  • Fourth, put a security freeze on access to your information with the three major credit monitoring companies (and the two smaller ones we include here). A credit freeze keeps the sensitive data in your credit files from being accessed without your specific consent. This can protect you from fraudulent credit applications.

Access the Equifax freeze at  You can also call 888-298-0045, but their ability to respond to incoming calls is impacted by COVID-19.

Transunion at  You can also call 888-909-8872.

Experian at  You can also call 888-397-3742.

Innovis, a fourth, smaller, but rapidly growing, credit reporting agency, can have a credit freeze placed at  You can also call 800-540-2505.

National Consumer Telecom and Utilities Exchange (NCTUE) is a fifth, little-known, credit reporting database run by Equifax (freezing your credit file at Equifax does not freeze your NCTUE file). In general, only mobile phone companies use NCTUE but there are other companies, like water, power, and cable companies that also use it. Hackers can open a mobile phone account in your name, obtain a “free” mobile phone (to be paid for in monthly installments on the account), and sell it. A security freeze can be placed at You can also call 866-343-2821. We found that neither the website nor the automated phone option works consistently.

By placing a security freeze with these five companies, you will be able to prevent anyone else from accessing your credit reports with those companies. You will not be able to apply for any credit while the freeze is in effect, so if you are applying for a mortgage, buying a car, or trying to open a credit account of any sort, you will need to take the freeze off your accounts while in process. However, when removing the freeze, you can elect to have it automatically reapplied in a given number of days, or longer (when you think your financing will be complete). Freezing and unfreezing your credit is free in all states under a recent federal law. A freeze does not affect your credit score.

At the time that you place each freeze, take the opportunity to review your current credit report with that service to make sure all credit lines listed are actually yours. Never pay a service for the credit report. You are entitled to one free report per year from each of the three major credit reporting services and, until April of 2021, those reports are available weekly to help consumers manage their finances. Any credit line you do not recognize could be the result of fraud or a clerical error. In either event, take action to have the report corrected. An inaccurate report can negatively affect your credit score.

It is also a good idea to have your children freeze their credit when they turn 16 (the age at which they can freeze it themselves).

Parents and guardians can freeze the credit of a child under 16. If you request a credit freeze for your child, the credit bureau must create a credit file for the child, and then freeze it. In addition to supplying the information for an adult credit freeze, you will also need the child’s birth certificate and proof that you have standing to freeze their credit. Here is a link to an article with specific information on how to freeze the child’s credit (you will need to do it by mail) and a list of the documents you will need to include.

Finally, if we’re too late with this advice, and you’ve already been victimized, not only should you take the steps listed above, but also take the following steps:

  • Report your identity theft at, a Federal Trade Commission website, where they can also provide you with a recovery plan which will vary depending on the type of identity theft you have experienced.
  • File a police report with the police department where you live.
  • File Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit, with the IRS. It’s a simple form to fill out, and it then can be faxed (with a cover sheet marked “CONFIDENTIAL”) to the IRS at 855-807-5720. Although the instructions for the form provide a mailing address, do not send via mail. Due to the long IRS shutdown during the pandemic, the IRS is currently months, perhaps years, behind in sorting through all the accumulated mail, and your Affidavit will get lost.
  • Do those five credit freezes we described in the first part of this memo!
  • Instead of freezing your credit information, you can choose to place a “fraud alert” on your credit reports. This can make it harder for an identity thief to open more accounts in your name because companies must verify your identity (usually with a phone call to you). You can place a fraud alert by asking one of the three major nationwide credit bureaus mentioned above to do so. It has to put the alert on your credit report and tell the other two credit bureaus to do so. The alert lasts one year, unlike a credit freeze, which can last indefinitely – until you choose to remove it. You don’t have to be a victim of identity theft to place a fraud alert, For example, you may want to place an alert if your wallet, social security card, or other personal, financial, or account information is stolen, or of your personal information was exposed in a data breach. A fraud alert is free. With a fraud alert in place, you keep access to your credit. But credit freezes are generally best for people who aren’t planning to take out new credit in the near future, and we strongly recommend a credit freeze over a fraud alert.