The Secret Service says that scammers are using stolen personal information to file the fraudulent relief claims, similar to how they perpetrate tax fraud year to year. The Agari researchers add that the personal data fraudsters are using right now, like home addresses and Social Security numbers, may come not only from ancient data breaches, but from a spike in payroll data theft in March and April. When scammers claim unemployment benefits in someone's name, they are either getting to the money before the victim has a chance to, or are filing on behalf of people who haven't actually lost their jobs. In the case of the one-time CARES ACT payments, scammers are submitting through the special "non-filers" IRS category to divert those payments into their own pockets. Agari researchers say that Scattered Canary has filed at least 82 of these claims, of which 30 were accepted by the IRS.
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"We can’t 100 percent confirm that the Scattered Canary actors we’re looking at are the actors the Secret Service is referring to, but at least one of these actors is committing unemployment fraud against the states of Washington and Massachusetts," says Crane Hassold, Agari's senior director of threat research and a former digital behavior analyst for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. "They're also involved in committing fraud against CARES payments."In addition to those two states, the Secret Service said it also sees evidence of attacks in North Carolina, Rhode Island, Oklahoma, Wyoming, and Florida. Agari researchers say that Scattered Canary has filed at least 174 fraudulent unemployment claims in Washington since April 29 and 17 fraudulent claims in Massachusetts on May 15 and 16 that were all accepted. This is consistent with the Secret Service's warning that Washington has been hit hardest by scam campaigns. Over time, Agari calculates that all of those claims combined could pay out as much as $5.4 million if they aren't blocked. On Sunday evening, a Scattered Canary actor also filed a fraudulent unemployment claim in Hawaii. Agari says it was accepted.
The IRS did not return a request from WIRED for comment. The Hawaii Unemployment Insurance Special Activities Unit could not be reached for comment."The United States Secret Service Global Investigative Operations Center along with our Electronic Crimes Task Force partners have identified criminal actors targeting state unemployment insurance program funds," a Secret Service spokesperson said in a statement. "Criminals will use stolen personally identifiable information to file fraudulent state unemployment claims. The Secret Service’s primary investigative priorities are to mitigate any attempts by criminals that target citizens for identity theft and cyber-enabled crimes as it relates to Covid-19."