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Protect your Paycheck Protection Program data

Farmers and agribusiness owners aren’t immune to scammers, so know what to look for.

December 23, 2020

2 Min Read
scam alert graphic
BEWARE OF SCAMMERS: Cyberscams have become common and sophisticated. With the release of PPP data from the Small Business Administration, it’s more important than ever to protect your data to make sure scammers aren’t using it. Melpomenem/Getty Images

Cyberscams are becoming all too common. In 2019, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center recorded more than $3.5 billion in losses to individuals and businesses.

Hackers prey on fear, and “threat actors” make scams relevant. As of October, the Federal Trade Commission reported that consumers have reported losing more than $160 million from COVID-19 and stimulus-related frauds.

Hackers are taking advantage of the current pandemic and people’s fears. Now, more than ever, you need to stay vigilant.

Phishing

This is one of the most common types of cybersecurity scams. Phishing is a hacker’s attempt to compromise your operating system or obtain sensitive information via email.

“Spear phishing” takes a phishing attempt one step further by making the scam relevant to the recipient. This is done by sending a communication from what appears to be a known contact or regular vendor the person conducts business with.

Also becoming more prevalent are phone scams, known as vishing, and even text messaging scams, called smishing. Awareness of these types of scams is your No. 1 defense, so always be on alert, stay vigilant and report any suspicious activity — there is no such thing as being too cautious when it comes to your personal and confidential information.

Be aware of PPP data release

Many farm owners and owners of agribusinesses got Paycheck Protection Program loans in the spring and early summer.

It was recently announced that, in response to a federal lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act, the Small Business Administration released the personally identifiable information of PPP loan recipients on Dec. 1.

The information published includes the name, address, loan amount and lender name for each PPP loan. Previously, SBA had redacted the personal information for smaller loans. The court decision, however, compelled the SBA to release detailed information on all PPP loans.

While not a fraudulent attempt, the released data could be used fraudulently, so borrowers should be aware. Closely scrutinize any communications regarding SBA loans to ensure authenticity and monitor your accounts for unusual activity. Contact your lender if you have any uncertainty.

Learn more about the program data by visiting sba.gov.

What to do if you’ve been compromised

The first step is to verify. If you receive a phone call from someone requesting personal information, hang up and call back at a known number. If you receive an email requesting similar information, pick up the phone and call the sender.

Often, vendors have a “report fraud” action on their website to let them know someone is hijacking their brand. It may not protect your account, but it at least notifies the organization of the fraudulent activity.

Additionally, the Federal Trade Commission encourages consumers to report scams. Visit reportfraud.ftc.gov to learn more.

Finally, if you believe a scammer has your information, visit identitytheft.gov. Depending on the information that has been compromised, this website outlines a step-by-step action plan.

Pellegrino is a contributor for Farm Credit East.

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