CLARKSBURG, W.Va. – The U.S. Attorney’s Office, FBI and Small Business Administration (SBA) are asking small business owners across West Virginia to be aware of possible scams related to the CARES Act.
A release from the Department of Justice stated that U.S. Attorney Bill Powell in the Northern District of West Virginia, U.S Attorney Mike Stuart in the Southern District of West Virginia , Eugene Kowel, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Pittsburgh Office, SBA OIG Eastern Region Special Agent-in-Charge Kevin Kupperbusch and Karen Friel, SBA West Virginia District Director, have joined resources in an effort to prevent small businesses that are already struggling from the restrictions in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic from being victimized by criminals using the program as an opportunity to commit fraud.
“Those who prey on others look for opportunities like the various loans provided to small businesses. United States Attorneys and our respective law enforcement partners, like the FBI, are on the lookout for those predators. We strongly encourage those who become aware of such scams to report it to the authorities so we can take action” said U.S. Attorney Bill Powell, Northern District of West Virginia.
“West Virginia businesses are struggling to survive a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. The last thing we need are criminals scamming the essential aid meant to help businesses survive,” said U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart, Southern District of West Virginia. “Fraudsters and scammers never miss an opportunity to fraud and scam even in desperate times. Small businesses are the backbone of our state’s economy. We have their back. We will do all we can to protect them.”
“Fraudsters will take advantage of any opportunity to steal money,” said FBI Pittsburgh Acting Special Agent in Charge Eugene Kowel. “We recognize that criminals could try to prey on small businesses during this time of fear and anxiety. The FBI works closely with the private sector so companies can make
informed decisions in response to malware attacks. Companies can prevent and mitigate malware infection by utilizing appropriate back-up and malware detection systems. They can also train employees to be skeptical of emails, attachments and websites they don’t recognize. If you discover your business is the victim of a fraudulent incident, file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov.”
“Fraudsters prey upon those in vulnerable positions, and this is a critical time for our nation’s small businesses,” said SBA OIG’s Eastern Region Special Agent-in-Charge Kevin Kupperbusch. “SBA OIG and its law enforcement partners are actively working together to root out fraud in SBA’s programs and bring those responsible to justice. The public is encouraged to learn about potential fraud schemes and scams as a safeguard to being victimized.”
The release stated that when the CARES Act was signed into law, small businesses were able to access $349 billion in federal aid at a most crucial time for entrepreneurs that were balancing the health and safety of their families and themselves while operating their small business. The release stated that while small businesses take note of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) and the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), so do those with bad intentions.
“Unfortunately, small businesses are being targeted at a time they are most vulnerable,” noted SBA West Virginia District Director Karen Friel. “Look out for phishing attacks and scams utilizing the SBA logo. These may be attempts to obtain your personally identifiable information (PII), to acquire personal banking access, or to install ransomware or malware on your computer.”
The release urged entrepreneurs to remember that if anyone asks them for money, they are not legitimate, nor are emails that end in anything but “.gov”. Additionally, the release stated that the SBA does not reach out to initiate a loan, nor does is ask for information previously provided in the application process.
The release stated that the SBA’s Office of Inspector General has published a list of possible scams and fraud schemes on its website in order to raise public awareness.