The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was signed into law on March 27th, 2020. Since then, scammers and fraudsters have been trying to take advantage of small businesses that are already suffering from the economic impacts of the COVID-19 Coronavirus shutdowns. Part of the CARES Act is the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) where small businesses can apply for a loan from the Small Business Administration (SBA). If the funds received from the loan are used for SBA approved expenses, the loan may be forgiven. The availability of PPP has opened a floodgate to a plethora of crooks. The SBA and other sources are warning about these risks as scammers are going after business owners desperate for money to keep their businesses open as well as trying to scam the SBA directly out of money.
One woman in Minnesota applied for a small business loan online and shortly after received an e-mail with a form attached asking for more information. The e-mail appeared to be from the SBA. However, after further inspection, the e-mail’s return address listed under the SBA logo was a personal e-mail address. Had she opened the attachment and filled it out, the scammers would have had all her confidential information. Small business owners need to be aware of the risk of fake e-mails claiming to be government loan servicers or trying to steal confidential information from business owners. Scammers have become quite sophisticated in their impersonations of lenders or government officials as well by creating legitimate looking websites (spoofing). There are several things small business owners should watch out for including an unsolicited offer to fast track a loan, requested money up front to pay for the loan process, asking for confidential information or any links to click on in an e-mail. The SBA does not reach out to small businesses via e-mail regarding your loan or your qualifications. In fact, the SBA does not reach out to small businesses at all, the inquires come from the lender. Also, the SBA does not charge for information about the PPP program (it is free on their website) or to apply for a loan (the application process goes through your lender). The SBA website also includes a list of lenders that are approved to offer PPP loans. Small business owners would be wise to ensure the lender they are working with is on the SBA’s approved lenders list.
Scammers have also tried to scam the SBA directly. Two men from New Hampshire have been accused of applying for $500,000.00 in PPP loans claiming to have 20 or more employees at four different businesses. The SBA claims they have no employees nor were they the owners of the businesses they listed. They have been caught and are awaiting their court dates. Scams like this make it more difficult for legitimate business owners to easily get aid.
If your business needs financial aid, look through the SBA’s website and then contact your bank to see if you qualify. Never respond or click on links from an unsolicited or unknown source as it is most likely a scammer.