Depression-era criminal Willie Sutton might have put it best when someone asked why he robbed banks. The infamous thief was quoted as saying, “That’s where the money is.”

Well, banks still have money, but the fraudsters and scammers among us these days are going for easier pickings that are just waiting to be snatched from those struggling in the age of COVID-19.

While the rest of us are protecting our health and trying to feed our families, predators are at work, gaming the federal and state governments’ efforts to preserve the economy.

The federal Paycheck Protection Program, expanded unemployment benefits and economic stimulus checks are among the targets, and scammers are walking away with cash and the personal identities of thousands of unsuspecting victims.

Multiple coronavirus relief initiatives have been introduced this spring, sending trillions of dollars flowing into the hands of Americans, and scammers have hit their stride. Their schemes range from fraudulent PPP applications to bogus stimulus check websites. The first fraud charges were already announced a couple of weeks ago.

In this new world of COVID-19, there are many types of predators, and they’re out to harm more than our health. Vigilance is the key defense.

Businesses and self-employed individuals should use only banking institutions they know or are able to verify. Scammers are looking for opportunities presented by those desperate to get much needed relief. Play it safe and initiate contact yourself rather than answer an unfamiliar solicitation. With one report showing 645 domains related to the PPP registered between March 30 and April 20 alone, individuals should use websites that end in .gov for the most reliable information.

Thieves also are targeting the government’s enhanced unemployment program for jobless people affected by COVID-19. While these scams are costing taxpayers millions, they’re also harming businesses and individuals.

The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission has seen thousands of people file bogus layoff claims against unsuspecting businesses. In fact, my wife recently received notice of two fraudulent applications in connection with her LLC in consecutive days.

Even though the government is sending the funds, employers and employees stand to lose. Employers could pay higher unemployment taxes, and employees with stolen identities could face a host of financial consequences.

Businesses and individuals can fight back by contacting the OESC if they receive filing notifications that they are not familiar with, and vigilance pays off. So far, they have discovered nearly 4,000 fraudulent claims.

There are even scams designed to dupe individuals still waiting for their stimulus payment into giving up personally identifiable information to speed up access to the funds.

Scammers are contacting victims through email, calls and texts, offering to help obtain funds faster or for a fee. Just click the link, they say, and fill out the form with your name, Social Security number and/or bank account number. These thieves are feeding on the desperation of others, using stolen identities to try and obtain credit cards and loans before fading into the woodwork.

Disasters can bring out the best and the worst in people, and the coronavirus is no different. People can protect themselves by investigating suspicious offers that show up in inboxes or mailboxes, and they should never hesitate to consult with trusted friends, financial advisors or attorneys.

As we all work to keep ourselves, our families and our neighbors safe from the virus, it’s important to watch out for the predators who don’t show up under a microscope. Sometimes, they can be just as destructive.

Max Rhodes is the chief compliance officer at Full Sail Capital.