COVID-19 makes some vulnerable to fraud schemes

Osceola County deputies say they're searching for the thief who ripped off thousands of dollars from a young woman out of work.

With so many without a job and money, experts say it makes them prime targets.

Christina Gruddas, 19, stopped working during COVID-19.

So when she received an Instagram message from a woman offering money, she thought she had finally gotten a break.

"Saying because of the 'corona thing,' her and her uncle were having a business where they were giving out money, trying to help people in this time of need," she said.

Christina says she needed the money.

"She said all I have to do is give her my account information and my name and she’s gonna send me money."

Osceola deputies say Christina soon learned that the woman was a thief, leaving the 19-year-old with a negative balance of $6,000.

"The person played off as a military woman with kids. Like you're going to pretend you’re doing something that’s helping the country and then you’re going to steal money," she said.

IRS Criminal Investigations Special Agent Ryan Thompson says the pandemic is giving thieves an excuse to rip people off.

"With folks more vulnerable, afraid, it has given rise to an uptick in phishing scams where folks are trying to get your information, you’re bank account information.," Thompson said.

He says fake charities and investments are also another ploy to get people’s money.

"People say for instance, 'I’ve got a cure and we’re working on something. You want to get in on this on the ground level. You’re gonna make a ton of money.' We’re seeing these things pop up all over the country," Thompson said.

But he says there are ways to spot a thief. 

"Oftentimes, the spelling doesn’t seem right. The syntax is off, the grammar seems a little weird," Thompson said.

Christina says she'll know better next time.

"I’m only 19 and I’ve now gone through the whole fraud thing and I don’t want anyone else to go through it," she said.

Thompson says if you're not sure about something, get a second opinion.

If you have any information about this case, call the Osceola County Sheriff's Office.