Amid the highest unemployment rates in nearly a century, a new threat has developed—unemployment insurance identity theft. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act temporarily expanded unemployment benefits through July and many states now participate in an interim unemployment payment program launched in August by the Trump administration. While the payment programs were designed to help the jobless, they’ve provided additional incentives to scammers.
According to the FBI(Opens in a new Window), many unemployment insurance victims do not know they have been affected until they file for jobless insurance benefits—and surprisingly, individuals don’t have to be out of work to fall victim to unemployment fraud.
While there is no exact number of those affected during the pandemic, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) estimates unemployment fraud affects tens of thousands of Americans and an estimated $26 billion in payments may go to fraudsters. While victims won’t be liable for stolen unemployment benefits, it may affect future legitimate claims they may make and lead to larger issues related to identity theft. Benefits will be replenished pending an investigation by the state’s unemployment agency—but this could take weeks to months due to a mounting backlog.
- You should always be suspicious of telephone calls and text messages, letters, websites or emails that require you to provide your personal information or other sensitive information, especially birth dates and Social Security numbers. Also be cautious of attachments and embedded links within email, especially from an unknown email sender.
- The FBI(Opens in a new Window) also advises individuals to beware of suspicious activities such as:
- Receiving communications regarding unemployment insurance forms when you have not applied for unemployment benefits. For example:
- You receive a debit card or an unemployment insurance letter and have not filed a claim for benefits
- You are notified by your employer that a claim for benefits has been filed when you have not been separated from employment
- You attempt to file a claim online and one already exists
- You receive IRS Form 1099-G, a tax form that reports your unemployment compensation for the year—despite never having made a claim
- You receive IRS correspondence regarding unreported UI benefits
- You receive notice of a State or Federal tax offset
- Unauthorized transactions on your bank or credit card statements related to unemployment benefits
- Any fees involved in filing or qualifying for unemployment insurance
- Unsolicited inquiries related to unemployment benefits
- Fictitious websites and social media pages mimicking those of government agencies
- Contact the following if you suspect fraud:
- Report the fraudulent claim to the local police to create a legal record of the fraud.
- File a fraudulent alert with the credit bureau and check your credit to make sure of no other fraudulent activity using your Social Security number.
- Equifax: 1.877.576.5734; www.equifax.com/personal/
- Experian: 1.888.397.3742; www.experian.com/fraud
- TransUnion: 1.800.680.7289; www.transunion.com
- For the next year you can check your credit report weekly for free through AnnualCreditReport.com
- Report identity theft with the IRS to help avoid paying taxes on a 1099 form should an unemployment payment slip through at 1.800.908.4490.
- Starting in mid-January 2021, all taxpayers who can verify their identities are eligible for an Identity Protection PIN.
- The IP PIN is a 6-digit PIN that offers additional protections for your Social Security number on your tax return.
- More details on identity theft warning signs and ways to protect personal identifiable information are available at IRS.gov.
- Notify the Social Security Administration at 1.800.269.0271.
- File a fraud report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at 1.877.438.4338. In addition, IdentityTheft.gov has additional resources for identity theft victims.
- If you get unemployment benefits you never applied for, the FTC reminds consumers NOT to respond to calls, emails, or text messages as it may be a scam.
- Contact your employer’s payroll department to report the fraudulent activity.
- While unlikely your bank account is compromised, notify any financial institutions of the identity theft and seek additional protection on your accounts.
- Notify the state unemployment insurance program of the fraudulent claim using the number and/or link listed below. The state is required and expected to enforce its own unemployment insurance laws.
Claimant Fraud: (800) 814-0513
Employer Fraud: (800) 247-4984
Claimant Fraud: (800) 891-6499
Employer Fraud: (800) 437-9136
Claimant Fraud: (800) 342-9909
Employer Fraud: (800) 352-9273
Claimant Fraud: (573) 751-0057
Employer Fraud: (573) 751-1009
If You Think You Might Be A Victim…
Don’t delay and act immediately by alerting the appropriate agencies and/or organizations.
Notify any financial institutions regarding potential fraud.
If You Connect It. Protect It.
Held every October, National Cybersecurity Awareness Month is a collaborative effort between government and industry to raise awareness regarding the importance of cybersecurity while also ensuring that all Americans have the resources they need to stay safe and secure online.
This year, National Cybersecurity Awareness Month has been broken into four focus areas: If You Connect It, Protect It, Securing Devices at Home and Work, Common Phishing Attacks in Banking and Staying Protected While Connected.