As incidents of identity theft continue to rise, the latest target is millions of Americans filing for unemployment benefits due to historic job losses from the coronavirus pandemic.
What is Unemployment Fraud
Jobless claims have ballooned across the country, and scammers are taking advantage of overwhelmed state unemployment systems struggling to meet the unprecedented demand. In recent weeks, the U.S. government has been alerted to fraudsters filing phony claims with stolen personally identifiable information. This fraud scheme has made it harder to deliver financial relief to unemployed Americans who need it most during the pandemic.
Know the signs
If you receive a letter about Unemployment Insurance benefits but have not applied, you may be a victim of identity theft.
Filing for state unemployment insurance typically requires the sort of personal information — Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses — increasingly accessible on the dark web, thanks in part to previous data breaches that have exposed the records of millionsof individuals in recent years. This makes it more important than ever to monitor and protect your personally identifiable information (PII).
So, what should you do if someone uses your name and information to file a phony unemployment claim? Law enforcement recommends these steps:
- Get organized.
Keep a folder for detailed notes on any incident, including any reports, case numbers, copies of emails and other documentation. If you face any identity theft issues or find inaccuracies on your credit report, you’ll need a paper trail to reference.
- Contact your employer’s human resources department to document the incident.
- Contact your State Unemployment Office with the following information ready to verify your identity:
- The last four digits of your social security number
- Your date of birth
- Your address
- Your current phone number
- Information on how you learned a claim was filed on your behalf
4. File an online or non-emergency police report with the law enforcement agency whose jurisdiction you live in.
5. Contact the three major credit bureaus.
Experian (1-888-397-3742), TransUnion (1-800-680-7289) and Equifax (1-888-766-0008):
- Tell the credit bureaus a fraudulent unemployment claim was made using your identity. Give them the case number from your police report.
- Get free credit reports by visiting www.annualcreditreport.com or calling 1-877-322-8228. Check your credit report at least once a year. As a victim of identity theft, you also have the right to check it monthly if you choose.
- Have one of the credit bureaus place a fraud alert on your identity. If you don’t have an upcoming major purchase such as buying a home, consider freezing your credit. This makes it harder for someone to open new credit in your name.
6. Place a security freeze on ChexSystems which is similar to a credit report but for demand deposit accounts.
7. File an Identity theft report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). This site also contains other useful information and additional tips for safeguarding your identity.
8. Contact the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Consider setting up an IRS account with your Social Security number to help prevent criminals from creating an account using your identity. Another option is to lock your Social Security number to guard against IRS tax fraud, which police warn could be the next wave of cyber-crime during this pandemic.
Old scams, new opportunities
Scammers are using old tactics with new COVID-related opportunities, so continue to be alert for any of the following:
- Phishing emails that appear to come from the U.S. Department of Labor or your state’s unemployment insurance office. The message may say your filed claim is incomplete and request more information, or it may even offer help to file your claim for you. It may ask you to click on a link to a phony website looking for you to enter your personal information or it may contain malicious software. If the email asks questions unrelated to you or your claim, that’s a sign it’s fraudulent.
- Phone scams or text messages saying your unemployment benefits are suspended. They may instruct you to reactivate the account by calling a number or by providing personal information. State unemployment services won’t contact you to ask for personal information over the phone or by text.
- Fake websites requesting personal information claiming to help you file your unemployment insurance claim. They are trying to steal your personal information to use it for fraudulent purposes or to infect your computer with malicious software to steal that information.
Remember, always follow these guidelines to avoid becoming the victim of a scam or identity theft:
- Don’t share sensitive personal or financial information over the phone, in a text or by email with an unsolicited or unconfirmed caller or sender.
- Don’t always believe caller ID information because it can be easily manipulated.
- Don’t open, respond to or click on links from unexpected, suspicious or unknown email or text senders.
- Don’t sign into personal financial accounts from a link in a suspicious email or text message.