Officials Warn of Scams Targeting Furloughed Workers

Inside Subprime: Feb 4, 2019

By Grace Austin

While the partial government shutdown just ended, another one may be on the horizon, leading to warnings by some officials and consumer advocates against scams.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring is warning employees furloughed by the shutdown and those trying to help them to be weary of scam artists. Virginia, especially northern Virginia, is home to tens of thousands of federal workers.

These scams include fake employment offers for “side jobs”; predatory lenders, such as payday loan firms, taking advantage of temporarily unpaid workers; and charities that claim to be working on behalf of federal workers but are actually scams.

Fake employment offers, including “secret shopper” jobs, often can show up in your inbox or even posted on an online job board, as one government worker recently told Consumer Reports. Those ads can be from major companies that seem legitimate. But unless the job seeker has applied to the company previously, it could be a scam.

Such scams can offer a lot of money for relatively simple jobs; will say you have the job before an interview has occurred; request payment or personal information, oftentimes in gift cards; or exclude contact information that can’t be easily found through an online search.

If a job offer seems suspicious, then don’t respond. A job shouldn’t ask for money upfront ever. And scammers can use precious personal data for the purpose of identity theft, so job seekers shouldn’t give out personal information without a more thorough check of the company and position.

Payday lenders, whether through a storefront or online, can charge high interest rates on small-dollar loans. Herring warned against relying on such predatory loans for financial assistance, because they can often lead to a cycle of debt. Others, as Consumer Reports said, can just be phony lenders altogether. They will often call or email looking for personal information to help pre-approve a loan. Those emails should be deleted and reported, if they seem suspicious.

Fake charities saying they are helping furloughed workers will often pressure someone looking to donate into giving and can even contact a potential victim unsolicited, according to Herring. It’s encouraged to check how much of the donation will go to the charity, as well as other information like the nonprofit’s mission, how the donation will be used, and basics such as the charity’s office address and phone number. And any donations should only be made by check to the organization directly.

Consumer Reports also warns against spam phone calls in which an individual claims to be from a government office. During the robocall, the scammer indicates the victim’s federal benefits will stop if they don’t provide them with personal financial information. Like a lot of robocalls, they can be spoofed to look like a local number; experts warn callers not to answer a phone call if it’s not recognizable. And it’s still an option to sign up for the state and federal Do Not Call lists.

Scam artists often prey on people in tough economic situations, so it’s always best to be on guard as a furloughed government worker or contractor.

For more information on payday loans, scams, and cash advances and check out our city and state financial guides including FloridaIndiana, Illinois, KansasKentucky, MissouriOhio, Texas and more.