Current Fraud Alerts and Scams
This forum is used to provide insight into various fraud schemes and tips regarding the action that you can take if you fall victim to such schemes.
Information provided by investigative authorities and resources, as well as investigations handled by Principal®, have identified the following as some common fraud schemes impacting the insurance and financial services industries and the general public. It’s important for you to have an awareness of these types of fraud schemes so you can take preventative measures to secure and protect your information and to avoid falling victim to such schemes.
COVID-19 related scams
Cybercriminals and fraudsters are currently using COVID-19 (coronavirus) as a theme in email, text message, phone, and in-person attacks. While they change their approach daily, here are examples of the approaches they've used recently:
- Phishing (email) and smishing (texting) scams that say you can receive your stimulus check faster if you click on a link and provide your bank account information. (This is specific to the U.S.)
- The government will automatically deposit the money into your bank account or mail you a check once they've processed your payment. They won't contact you to confirm personal information and they won't ask you to pay anything up front before you receive the money.
- Emails supposedly from local hospitals that say you've been exposed to the virus by someone you know and ask you to click on a link for more details on how you can get tested.
- Emails that ask for your username, password, birth date, Social Security number, national identification number, and/or other personal information. These are most often presented as surveys or forms.
- Asking for donations to help find a coronavirus vaccine or those claiming that funds will go to coronavirus patients and/or their families.
- Phone scams where someone poses as a friend or family member and asks for money or access to your account to help pay for rent, emergency travel, or coronavirus-related medical bills.
Know your financial advisor
Have you received an invitation to a “free dinner” from a financial advisor? If you accept these types of invitations, you should know that a majority of these seminars include a sales or marketing presentation. These types of seminars can be educational and helpful, but a small number of these types of invitations can include fraudulent intentions or high pressure sales tactics. It’s important to keep the following in mind when attending one of these meetings to avoid someone taking advantage of you and to protect your investments:
- Before attending, do some homework to ensure the person presenting is properly licensed or registered (FINRA’s BrokerCheck or the SEC’s investor.gov website are good resources).
- Be wary of anyone who promises guaranteed or exceptional rates of return with no risk, or the same high rate every year with no fluctuations.
- Do not be pressured to have ongoing meetings with the advisor at your home.
- Never make an investment decision at one of these events. Take the time to fully review the information and make informed decisions.
Common IRS impersonation scams
The IRS has issued alerts warning taxpayers to stay vigilant against increased IRS impersonation scams. The IRS has seen an increase in “robo-calls” where scammers leave urgent callback requests through the phone. Once individuals call back, the scammers ask for their personal identifying information (such as social security number or date of birth) and may use this information to steal their identity. Below are some examples of varied tactics used by the scammers:
- Demanding payment for a “Federal Student Tax.”
- Demanding immediate tax payment for taxes owed on an iTunes or other type of gift card.
- Soliciting W-2 information from payroll and human resource professionals.
- “Verifying” tax return information over the phone.
- Pretending to be from the tax preparation industry.
Since these bogus calls can take many forms and scammers are constantly changing tactics it’s important to know telltale signs to avoid becoming a victim. Keep in mind that the IRS will never:
- Personally call you to demand immediate payment over the phone, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill.
- Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for failure to pay your taxes.
- Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
- Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer.
- Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
Identity theft happens when a third party uses your credentials (such as your name, address, date of birth, social security number, passwords, etc.) to assume your identity and perform fraudulent transactions or other criminal acts without your knowledge or consent.
You can minimize your risk of identity theft (and related monetary loss) by taking personal steps to keep your credentials, account/policy information, usernames, passwords, security phrases and PIN numbers secure at all times. Regularly checking your credit reports and account/policy statements can help you spot problems early and address them quickly.
If you identify unauthorized financial transactions, be sure to report them to your applicable financial services company, bank, insurance company, credit card company, or other applicable entities as soon as possible. You may also find it necessary to report the situation to law enforcement and to contact the credit bureau for further assistance. For additional helpful tips regarding this topic, you may want to refer to the Federal Trade Commission’s website or your local Attorney General’s or Fraud Bureau’s website.
Be cautious of fraudulent websites
We recently discovered an individual or business was illegally using likeness to our company name through a website URL known as theprincipalgroupllc.com. Although our logo was not used, “The Principal Financial Group” appeared on the website, giving the allusion the site was maintained by our company. We have reason to believe the owners were using it as a phishing site to lure people into providing their personally identifiable information and, in some instances, send money.
We took steps to shut down the website, but it’s a good reminder for everyone — be vigilant about the websites you visit.
- Be cynical. Always confirm the validity or existence of a business or offer on the Internet and be very cautious when providing personally identifiable information (such as date of birth, social security number, account numbers, etc.).
- Use caution before sending or wiring funds to unknown locations, especially locations outside of the U.S.
- If you aren’t sure, you can always call to confirm if something is genuine.
State judicial branches have received reports of a jury scam in operation throughout the country.
In the scam, the perpetrators call the victim and falsely claim to be from the local sheriff or police department wanting to verify the victim’s home address. The caller then informs the victim that there is a warrant for his or her arrest for failure to appear for jury service. The caller gives specific amounts owed to the courts and instructs the victim to get a money order or risk being arrested. A variation of the scam involves notices sent to the victim stating that there is a warrant for his or her arrest for failure to show up for jury duty.
The public should be aware that phone calls and notices like these are fraudulent. People who fail to appear for jury duty are not contacted by telephone. Also, law enforcement officers do not collect fines and fees. Typically, fines and fees are collected by the local clerk of court’s office.
Contact your local law enforcement agency to report the receipt of these types of calls and written notices.
Lottery, sweepstakes and other advance fee schemes
Perpetrators of these schemes typically use the name and logo of a well-known entity on correspondence or checks associated with international lotteries, sweepstakes and loan scams.
Red flags associated with these scams
- The recipient of the correspondence did not enter a drawing, lottery or sweepstakes or request a loan.
- Multiple entities are mentioned in connection with the lottery, sweepstakes or loan and the entities typically are not affiliated with such prize giveaways or loans.
- The correspondence contains misspelled information or poor grammar.
- The correspondence directs the recipient to send money to an international location so they can claim their prize money (typically if an individual wins something legitimately, they are not required to pay any up-front processing fees).
What you can do to handle these situations
- Avoid sending any up-front fees. With a lottery or sweepstakes, you should not be required to send money in order to receive money that you have won.
- Avoid cashing or depositing any checks associated with these scams. Such checks are typically fraudulent and will likely cause problems with your bank, credit union or check cashing facility.
- Even if you do not fall victim to the scam, you may want to consider reporting the scam to the Consumer Services Division of your local Attorney General’s office.
Phishing schemes/telemarketing fraud
There are times when you may receive a cold call from someone you don’t normally conduct business with offering you a product or service or indicating that you need to take immediate action regarding one of your existing accounts or policies. While many of these types of calls are legitimate, you need to be careful about situations where the caller indicates that you need to provide information or money before they can assist you. They may also pressure you to act right away or the offer won’t be valid. Some of these types of situations can be attempts by the caller to misrepresent who they are, steal your information/identity, and receive money under false circumstances.
Always be cautious when you receive an unsolicited call and the caller asks you to provide personal identifying information or an immediate payment. If you are not sure that the call is legitimate, ask the caller for their name, the name and location of their employer, and phone number and indicate that you will call them back (if they are calling for legitimate reasons, the caller should be willing to provide you with this information). This will allow you time to research the information provided in the call to validate their request.
Suspicious calls at work
Be cautious when receiving phone calls at the workplace from callers who claim to be people in positions of authority such as a company executive, a regulator, or an employee asking questions about the company and its employees. Sharing proprietary information or employee data can help a fraudster commit fraud against the company and result in risk to the company’s reputation.
It is important to recognize red flags. Social engineers attempt to deceive people into sharing personal and business information through a variety of methods. Some red flags to be aware of and watch for are:
- Won’t provide contact information or a callback number
- Asks a lot of questions or “plays dumb”
- Name drops
- Is very emotional (angry, crying, etc.)
- Says it’s an emergency or the matter is urgent
Recruitment fraud is a scheme that offers fictitious job opportunities to people. This type of fraud is normally done through online services such as bogus websites, social media, or through unsolicited emails claiming to be from Principal. These schemes often request recipients provide personal and financial information as well as request payment as part of the application process.
How to identify recruitment fraud:
- The email or other message does not come from an official principal.com email address and instead uses an address from a free email service such as: Gmail, outlook.com, live.com, Yahoo, AOL, or a combination of these.
- You are guaranteed a work-from-home position.
- You are offered a check to process. This fraudulent check may be described as advance pay or to cover “expenses” such as required training or computer equipment. The perpetrators will then ask you to make a payment as part of the application process. The perpetrators hope that you make the payment before you realize the original check was fake.
- The perpetrators will often ask recipients to complete bogus recruitment documentation, such as application forms, visa forms, or other documentation requesting sensitive personal and financial information. The Principal name and logo is sometimes fraudulently used on documents or checks to further disguise the scheme.
- There is an early request for personal information such as address details, date of birth, resume (CV), passport details, etc.
- Applicants are requested to contact other companies/individuals such as lawyers, bank officials, travel agencies, courier companies, visa/immigration processing agencies, etc.
- The perpetrators may even offer to pay a large percentage of the fees requested and ask the applicant to pay the remaining amount.
- There is an insistence on urgency.
Principal will never ask for money during any stage of the employment application process. If you are thinking about applying, or have submitted an application for employment, and you receive a communication asking for money or personal financial information, do not engage or respond. Contact Principal’s Human Resources at 833-261-3736 and your local law enforcement.
Updated April 2020