Identity Fraud Spikes During Pandemic

Identity Fraud Spikes During PandemicEXPAND
Brian Sevald
Keep Dallas Observer Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Dallas and help keep the future of Dallas Observer free.

COVID-19 has contributed to a rise in cases of identity theft as scammers seek to cash in on unemployment benefits and other programs meant to alleviate the economic effects of the pandemic.  Dallas police Detective Ryan McCarrick said that since the pandemic broke out, five to six identity fraud cases hit the desks of the department’s financial investigation unit a day. “I can’t think of any other type of identity theft in my time here that we’ve seen five or six reports of in a single day,” McCarrick said.

Usually, the victim’s identity has been stolen to apply for unemployment benefits through the Texas Workforce Commission or other disaster loans that are only available because of the pandemic.  Identity theft to obtain credit is generally more prevalent, he said, but even during tax season, one of the busiest for this type of theft, he said they don’t get as many reports as they have recently.

One Dallas-area man is accused of participating in a scheme to file fraudulent loan applications amounting to about $24.8 million, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

It doesn’t take a whole lot to register a business to get one of these loans, and the fees required are a small price to pay for fraudsters.

But Dallasites are also getting tricked into other cons like employment, romance, real estate and “box of rocks” scams. (The latter involves selling packaged electronics or other items at a discount. Victims instead end up with broken goods or wind up buying a literal box of rocks. While the financial investigations unit doesn’t track scams and swindles by type, McCarrick said these are the most common, in his experience. About 12% of the cases the unit handles are thefts, he said, and swindles, aka theft by deception, make up a portion of these thefts.

“To be totally honest with you, we don’t end up prosecuting many of these swindles because modern technology has made it to where you can do it online from anywhere in the world, really, and remain pretty anonymous,” McCarrick said.

In many cases, while the detectives in the unit can’t put their thumb on exactly where a suspect is, there’s enough evidence to determine they’re somewhere outside of the country.

“In fact, for the most part, if the suspect is outside the city of Dallas our investigation sort of ends there,” he said. “If we are able to determine the jurisdiction where they are, we would get in touch with that local jurisdiction to refer the case to them.”

If it’s clear that the money is going overseas, that’s a pretty good indication that the suspect is overseas as well, he said.

Sometimes the suspect’s location just can’t be determined. McCarrick said this is because many scams these days are being conducted using cryptocurrency designed to be difficult to trace.

McCarrick said the Federal Trade Commission has good information to help stay up to date on the ever-changing nature of these scams, but he also has two pieces of advice that can keep people from becoming victims.

First, don't rush into things. Scammers like to make the stakes high and give the impression that a decision has to be made immediately. They’ll say if you hang up, they’ll issue a warrant for your arrest, for example. His second bit of advice is an old truism that still holds weight: If it seems to good to be true, it probably is.

Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the Observer community and help support independent local journalism in Dallas.


Join the Observer community and help support independent local journalism in Dallas.