Wherever there are funds that can be stolen, identity thieves are likely to be at work. It turns out that unemployment benefits are no exception.
Unemployment scams have become more lucrative during COVID-19, as states have experienced overwhelming benefits claims from millions of first-time filers. There is a priority for states to get that money out quickly, even more so during a pandemic, so they don’t wait for an employer to verify the identity of the person who’s applied for benefits online.
A clear sign of these benefits being targeted by fraudsters, the Identity Theft Resource Center received more complaints of unemployment identity theft in the first two weeks of May 2020 than they did in all of 2019. Certain states, such as Washington, Massachusetts, Florida, Oklahoma, and Rhode Island, have seen a particularly heightened increase of fraudulent unemployment claims, catching hundreds of thousands of individuals off-guard, and bilking millions of dollars from the system with false claims. In Ohio, the Department of Job and Family Services says it has flagged a staggering 796,000 claims for potential fraud out of 1.4 million, including claims targeting the state’s Governor Mike DeWine and a well-known Michigan attorney, Douglas Bernstein.
Government unemployment systems are being targeted by hackers as well, putting unemployment identity theft victims at risk yet again. In February of 2021, the personal unemployment claims data of at least 1.4 million residents of Washington state were stolen in a hack of software used by the state auditor’s office.
Signs of Unemployment Identity Theft
Some people discover they’ve been victims of unemployment identity theft only when the time comes to file their own claims. That’s when they might be rejected because whoever used the identity to collect benefits “maxed out” the available unemployment funds.
Other times, your employer may be notified that you’re receiving benefits, prompting a tangle of confusion and paperwork that can impact your credit health and even future job prospects.
Additional signs that you may have been affected include:
- Requests for information from your state’s unemployment office
- Loan rejections based on your employment status
- IRS letters about underreporting of benefits you’ve supposedly received
- An unexpected 1099-G form showing unemployment benefits that you didn’t collect
- Employer notification regarding unemployment claims you’ve filed
How to Protect Yourself from Unemployment Fraud
To protect against this type of unemployment identity fraud, it’s important to take a proactive approach. Consider these strategies:
- Stay on top of news about unemployment fraud in your state; thieves often draw benefits using numerous identities, leading to a spike of activity.
- Guard your Social Security number, as this is the most important piece of information that thieves need. Give out the number only when absolutely necessary (don’t enter it on forms unless you know how that paperwork will be used) and don’t carry your Social Security card with you. If you suspect your Social Security card is lost or stolen, take steps to replace it, and monitor for any suspicious activity.
- Don’t put your birthdate on social media. It’s fine to announce it’s your birthday, but sharing your exact age gives thieves another piece of useful information, and can be used to commit synthetic identity theft.
- When using public Wi-Fi, don’t visit any sites that require a user name and password, and especially don’t visit sites with information like health insurance data, banking and credit card numbers, or credit report results. If you need to connect, make sure you have mobile security features, including a Virtual Private Network (VPN), on your mobile device to keep information protected.
Are You a Victim of Unemployment Identity Theft?
If you do receive an unexpected letter or 1099-G tax form from your state unemployment insurance office, detailing unemployment claims that you have not made but that use your personal information (Social Security number, birth date, name, or address), you should report the suspected fraud immediately.
- Report the crime immediately. The U.S. Department of Labor lists state websites and tip hotlines for reporting unemployment fraud.
- File a non-emergency police report so you have documentation of the suspected identity theft.
- Notify your current and former employers for the past 18 months that you believe your identity was used to file for bogus unemployment benefits.
- Consider placing credit freezes with all three major consumer credit bureaus. While a credit freeze won’t stop the majority of identity theft from occurring, it can alert you to suspicious activity and is an important part of layered protection against identity crime.
- File a complaint with the FTC.
Acting quickly can stop improper payments and also creates a record of your efforts to shut down the theft. If possible, work with your company’s HR department to verify your employment files are accurate once the theft has been handled.
By staying vigilant and reporting any suspicious activity in a timely manner, you can help keep unemployment identity theft from compromising your personal information. You don’t have to go it alone. IdentityForce Certified Protection Experts offer comprehensive, 24/7 recovery services, and can help you recover from unemployment identity theft.
If you think you are a victim of unemployment identity theft or any other type of identity crime, don’t hesitate to reach out to our team to learn more about how the best identity theft protection from IdentityForce can help protect all that you’ve built.
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