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CBS 58 Special Report: Coronavirus phishing scams

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) – The government is pouring money into the economy to try to ease the pain caused by the coronavirus crisis. Con artists are seizing the moment.

Fishing may be the world’s most relaxing con. Anglers can spend hours by a lake, hoping to convince the fish down below that mouthwatering or tasty lure at the end of their line is a free lunch, not bait hiding a barbed hook.

“I had received a friend request on Facebook from my aunt on my father’s side,” said Kati Kutka.

Kutka said she isn’t that close to some of the relatives on her dad’s side, but she thought nothing of her aunt’s recent friend request, or messages.

“Kinda started out asking how I was, but then moved very quickly into a conversation about some agency that was supporting COVID-19 relief,” said Kutka.

Her “aunt” said she had gotten $80,000 from this agency, all Kutka had to do was text a phone number for more information.

“I thought the verbiage was just kind of off, and she had spoken just kind of differently than what I remember her speaking,” said Kutka.

Curious, but a bit suspicious, Kutka texted the number. She got a reply almost instantly from Agent Mark Paul, in charge of the “mega bonus government benefit.” Paul told Kutka he needed some personal information to see if she qualified. He needed information including her name, address, email, and social security number.

“More information than you would ever want to give out to somebody you don’t know,” said Kutka.

She asked for some more details from Paul. He sent her the website for the Council of Development Finance Agencies. It’s a real organization, but it doesn’t give out money. CEO Toby Rittner sent us this statement:

"We are so sorry for any pain and/or damage that this phishing scam has caused any individuals. Unfortunately, in today's world, scammers can steal not only people's hard-earned money, but also a reputable non-profit's name and likeness for illegal activity. CDFA has been the target of these types of phishing schemes for years and we continue to fight to stop this activity."

Paul also sent her a blurry photo showing a list of people winning “free” money from the Grants, Loans, and Venture Capital Assistance Program. Never heard of it? That’s because it’s headquartered in the Department of Bologna. Kutka recognized the hook hiding in the bait, but she’s worried others may not.

“That was my aunt, that was my dad’s sister, why wouldn’t I believe that?” said Kutka.

“Scammers always try and sound legitimate, they spoof their phone numbers, so it looks like it’s from a government agency,” says Wisconsin BBB President Jim Temmer.

He explained scammers will compromise social media accounts, luring friends and family of the account they’ve hijacked.

“People take it over and they start sending messages out,” said Temmer.

He said no one from the government will ever use social media to give out free money. He suggested if you get these kinds of messages, call up the person sending them.

“Hey what’s going on here, did you really do this or not?” said Temmer.

Kutka had called her brother. It turned out all of her family had gotten the same Facebook message from her “aunt”. It was total nonsense. However, Kutka is currently furloughed and recognized there are others out there who may need money to survive and see a quick lifeline.

“If somebody’s offering them $80,000, they may forget reason for a few moments and take advantage of something that they think is legitimate when it’s definitely not,” said Kutka.

Scammers are always out fishing. Unlike anglers, they never catch and release.

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