Fraud and identity theft were common crimes in the United States long before COVID-19. Each state already had safeguards in place to protect unemployment systems against fraudulent activity; however, those protections only worked at normal applicant volumes, not the rapid economic impact caused by the coronavirus that expanded unemployment benefits to millions of people who lost their jobs, making unemployment fraud a popular scheme. The victims of this scheme may only find out when receiving notice from their state’s unemployment insurance agency, employer, or if they try applying for unemployment themselves, which doesn’t appear on credit reports. This cruel fraud, takes away people’s benefits, creating further economic hardships. It also means they have personal identifying information that can be used in ways beyond unemployment insurance claims like opening a new credit account in your name. It is important to review your reports for accounts you did not establish. Most states have either already taken additional steps to protect their systems from unemployment benefits fraud, such as stopping the certain type of transfers altogether, or adding an additional wait period before benefits are paid to detect fraudulent applications. Some states began mailing letters when an unemployment claim was filed, rather than electronic notifications.
As of July 12, 2021, the Los Alamos Police Department has received 118 fraud/identity theft calls, of which there has been 32 case reports initiated for the year. In 2020, there were 98 fraud/identity theft calls, of which 36 case reports were initiated.
Who is at the highest risk for this crime?
- People who have been the victim of a data breach that exposed their SSN may be at greater risk.
- People who are already the victim of identity theft may be at greater risk.
- People who have given their personal information and paid a fee to an individual claiming they are filing unemployment claims for a state agency may also be at greater risk. States do not charge a fee for filing for unemployment benefits. Any request for filing fees is likely to be a scam.
Tip-offs that you may be a victim of this crime:
- If you receive a notification that you have failed the security verification for your unemployment application.
- If you receive a letter from your state saying you have received a determination regarding unemployment insurance, and you did not apply for unemployment benefits.
- If you receive a letter from the state notifying you that you are potentially eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), but you have not applied for unemployment; or,
- If you have given your personal information to a person who is cold calling you on the telephone, at your door, or on social media claiming they will file unemployment benefits on your behalf for a fee.
Unfortunately, most people don’t know they’re a victim until the damage is done. If you have been a victim of unemployment insurance fraud, or believe you have been a victim, it’s important to act quickly. Below is a guide for steps you can take to protect your credit report information:
- File a police report: Contact your local police department to file a report of fraud. Request an officer at the Los Alamos Police Department by calling (505) 662-8222. Some banks may require a police report for their account recovery process. An official report provides you additional documentation, allows the case to be investigated, and assists authorities in identifying recurring fraud in their area.
- Contact the State Department of Workforce Solutions (DWS) Unemployment Insurance Claims and Operations Call Center (1-877-664-6984).
- Send an email to Id.firstname.lastname@example.org
- DO NOT activate the debit card that was mailed to you!
- Tell your employer: your workplace will be on the lookout for notices about unemployment claims filed by current employees.
- File a complaint at the National Center for Disaster Fraud https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form or (866) 720-5721.
- The US Department of Labor has extensive resources regarding unemployment benefits fraud. https://www.dol.gov/general/maps/fraud.
- The US Federal Trade Commission has a dedicated website for identity theft prevention and solutions. https://www.identitytheft.gov