While using stolen identities to claim unemployment benefits is not new, the federal government’s temporary benefits boost and the huge volume of unemployment benefit applicants makes this an attractive and popular form of COVID-19 fraud. (While all fraud is low, stealing from unemployed workers in the middle of a pandemic is a whole new level of despicable.)
The non-profit Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) warns that scammers often file fraudulent unemployment claims before legitimate claimants can. When the actual worker then tries to file a claim, it is rejected as a duplicate and the fraudster gets the benefits instead. (Talk about adding insult to injury.)
If your benefit claim is denied, or you have another reason to think you may be the victim of unemployment benefits fraud, you should immediately contact your state unemployment agency and report it. ITRC notes that scammers could also apply for additional government benefits using stolen identification – such as nutrition assistance programs and government healthcare programs. Again, immediately contact the sponsoring agency if it appears someone else is claiming any government benefits in your name.
Of course, if someone has access to your identity information, they may be able to steal from you in other ways. To protect yourself, ITRC recommends freezing your credit to block an identity thief who might try to open new credit accounts or loans in your name. If you do need to access credit yourself, it’s quick and easy to lift the freeze. Once you have a new account or loan, you can refreeze your credit. The Federal Trade Commission provides details on how to place and lift a credit freeze in its Credit Freeze FAQs. Also, keep a close watch on transactions for existing credit cards, bank accounts, home equity lines of credit, and services like cable and cell phones. Again, report any suspicious charges immediately.
With millions of Americans filing claims, and many government offices overwhelmed, if often takes effort and persistence to get through. If you experience difficulty in reaching an agency or company or need guidance in handling potential identity theft resulting in COVID-19 fraud, ITRC can help through their toll-free line (880-400-5530) as well as live chat and other resources. The Federal Trade Commission’s IdentityTheft.gov site also provides information to help you report and recover from identity theft.
Today’s Fraud of the Day comes from an article, “COVID-19 Pandemic Leads to Unemployment Benefits Identity Theft,” published by the Identity Theft Resource Center on April 18, 2020.
Right now is a very difficult time for a lot of consumers as concerns around the COVID-19 pandemic continue to be at the top of people’s minds. In addition to the inconvenience of social distancing and isolation and the very real fears for personal health and safety, many people are also facing the stress of reduced hours at work, being furloughed or losing their jobs due to quarantine, and business closures.
There is another equally upsetting issue at hand: unemployment benefits identity theft. A record-setting 22 million people in the U.S. filed for unemployment due to COVID-19. The identity thieves are believed to be just as busy with the filing, too. Some victims have already contacted the Identity Theft Resource Center over complaints of unemployment benefits identity theft.