Local business owners in the 209 area have been receiving information over the course of the last month about qualifying for up to $250,000 worth of “disaster assistance” funding from the “Small Business Administration.”

The only problem?

The email that has been making the rounds – and has resulted in some businesses turning over sensitive information – isn’t legitimate and is part of a new tactic being deployed by scammers to take advantage of small business owners during the difficult economic times.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, the phishing attempts are strikingly similar to other phone calls and messages that are intended to appear like they’re originating from government offices, but quickly become identifiable as scams when the person posing as a government agent asks immediately for things like Social Security numbers or birthdates.

And unfortunately, the scams can be successful.

“Phishing attempts aren’t the only scam that business owners are reporting,” said FTC Attorney Leslie Fair in a release announcing the new scam. “We’ve heard from people who have applied for loans through websites pretending to be a part of the SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, which was extended through the end of this year.

“And other people report they’ve been contacted to repay loans they never took out. The likely culprits? Criminals who illegally applied for loans in their name.”

The attempted scams have become so commonplace that San Joaquin County District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar has put up a special section on the office’s website listing active scams and the techniques that the scammers use to get over on victims – an attempt to educate the public and prevent people from being swindled out of their hard-earned money.

According to experts, those that may be actively seeking SBA loans are encouraged to start at the government agency’s website and not through an unsolicited email regardless of how official it may appear. People are also encouraged to check the credentials of possible lenders due to the fact that during the loan process personal information is necessary, and routine checks of one’s credit report are also recommended to make sure that loans have not been issued without the borrower’s knowledge or consent.

With the recent $600 stimulus checks being distributed and ongoing discussions about bringing that amount up to $2,000 – and possibly more through a variety of different programs – scammers have been working overtime to try and get their hands on the money intended to help people weather the pandemic.

For additional information, or to check the updated consumer alerts that are posted on the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office website, visit www.sjgov.org/da/ or search for the agency’s name on Facebook.