November 15th starts International Fraud Awareness Week, a time when we should all educate ourselves about fraud and how to protect ourselves against it. At South Shore Staffing, we have had two close calls with unemployment fraud in a short period of time.To learn more about unemployment fraud specifically, keep reading for tips on how to handle it:
With unemployment rates so high due to pandemic-related layoffs and closures, one group is taking full advantage of the situation: The scammers. From super-sophisticated organizations draining states of millions of dollars, to opportunists who want to make a quick buck, the rise in fraudulent unemployment activity is alarming. In fact, the FBI even notified states of the rise in unemployment claims using stolen personal information back in July.
Federal relief programs such as the $2.2 trillion federal CARES Act which provides Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) has only increased the illegal activity. In fact, Colorado had to stop $750 million to $1 billion in improper payments because more than three out of four claims made under the PUA program were fraudulent!
It has even hit us close to home as two of South Shore Staffing’s employees were almost the victims of unemployment fraud. Why should you care about this? And what can you do to protect yourself or your company? Keep reading for our tips.
What is unemployment fraud and why should you care?
Unemployment fraud occurs when someone tries to collect unemployment benefits that are not theirs to collect. This is done through the use of false information or identity theft, as well as, not reporting employment so that a person can continue to collect benefits. It costs states and the federal government billions of dollars, which can result in less money for states to use for legitimate unemployment claims; it can also drive up the federal deficit.
Why is it so prevalent now? With millions of legitimate claims being filed this year, and states attempting to turn around these claims quickly to help people during a pandemic, it is a perfect time for scammers. They try to beat the system by using the names of dead people or by grabbing the personal data of living people, like the data of our two staffers. Knowing that unemployment agencies are overwhelmed with claims actually helps them try to game the system.
In the case of one of our own employees, one was notified by a manager that a claim had been filed using their social security number and other personal information for employment benefits that spanned a period of time in which they were not employed by South Shore Staffing. The other employee learned of a third-party data breach that released enough information for someone to begin to file an unemployment insurance claim.
In both cases, their immediate follow up saved them hours of headache and trouble with the IRS which would have contacted them at tax time for payment on the unemployment insurance that had been issued in their name. And while they would have ultimately been able to prove that they were the victim of fraud, it would have been a slow and tedious process to fix after the fact.
What can you do if you are a victim of fraud or want to protect yourself against fraud?
If you receive notification that your personal data may have been exposed in a data breach, do not ignore this warning! Read the email carefully, and if it’s a legitimate warning (always double check the source), sign up for the free monitoring offered to protect yourself from any future fraud.
And if you think may already be the victim of unemployment fraud, there are a few steps you can take to protect yourself from the initial fraud now and in the future:
File a fraud claim with the Department of Unemployment Assistance. Print out the confirmation for your records.
Go to your local police station and let them know that you believe you were the victim of identity theft in relation to an unemployment claim fraud. Request a copy of the police report which may take them a couple of days to provide.
Freeze your credit with all three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, TransUnion). This is easy to do online for all three, and the DUA confirmation provides the links. Sign up for credit reporting service.
Place a fraud alert with all three credit bureaus (unlike with the credit freeze, you only need to notify one of the bureaus for the fraud alert; they will take care of notifying the others).
Obtain your credit report from all three credit bureaus and look it over for issues.
Notify major creditors, banks, the RMV, and Social Security Administration about the identity theft; keep an eye on your personal savings and checking accounts as well as your credit card statements.
Change passwords for all online accounts.
Notify the Federal Trade Commission by going to identitytheft.gov; there is a place to click to report unemployment benefits identity theft.
Your due diligence now will save you a lot of time and headache and will help states fight back against unemployment fraud which funnels so much money away from the people who need it.