Millions of Americans have filed for unemployment in the past year due to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, scammers have been taking advantage of this situation to file false unemployment claims using stolen identity information and collect benefits for themselves. Nationwide, the Labor Department estimates that more than $63 billion has been paid in fraudulent and questionable benefits since March 2020.
In the wake of the pandemic, unemployment fraud is still a rampant problem, contributing to delays at state unemployment offices where people are legitimately trying to apply for needed benefits. Not to mention, victims of unemployment fraud may be at risk for further fraud in the future.
To stay safe and help prevent unemployment fraud, follow these useful tips:
Remember that fraud can happen to anyone, whether or not you file for unemployment benefits. If your personally identifiable information was compromised due to a data breach, or you were a past victim of identity theft, you could be more vulnerable to unemployment fraud. You may not realize your identity has been used to file for unemployment benefits until it happens to you. Staying alert will help you spot and correct the fraud before more damage is done.
The sooner you can identify the warning signs of unemployment fraud, the better. Here are some of the red flags to watch for:
Even if you haven't experienced one of the warning signs above, it's still important to watch for fraudsters who are leveraging the rise in unemployment to steal personal information—especially online.
For example, a common scam attempt involves text messages, emails, social media messages and even phone calls promising “faster" unemployment benefits in exchange for your personal information. As a rule of thumb, never provide your Social Security number to someone you don't know. Legitimate government agencies won't ask for this information via email, text, social message or phone call.
To protect yourself, stay vigilant online and update your account passwords regularly. Study messages for poor grammar or spelling and don't click on suspicious links, even if they appear to be from a familiar source. When in doubt, look up the organization's official number online and call them directly.
If you find out you've been targeted for unemployment benefits fraud, act fast to secure your identity and report the fraud. Start by contacting the unemployment fraud to the state where it occurred. The Labor Department has set up a website to make it easier to report unemployment fraud and resolve your situation.
Next, take steps to protect your identity and reduce the risk of future fraud. If a scammer has enough information about you to apply for unemployment benefits, they could be able to access other benefits or accounts in your name. Check your credit reports for signs of unauthorized activity by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com. You may also choose to place a credit freeze or fraud alert on your credit to help prevent identity thieves from opening new accounts in your name.
As always, keep a close eye on your accounts and practice good “cyber hygiene" by changing your online passwords every few months, using two-factor authentication and avoiding suspicious messages.
Wright-Patt Credit Union (WPCU) is here to help you protect your personal and financial information from fraud. For more fraud prevention tips, tools and resources, visit WPCU.coop/StopFraud.