Right now is a very difficult time for a lot of individuals 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 57+ million people in the U.S. filed for unemployment due to COVID-19 between March and September of 2020.
Unemployment benefits identity theft has hit states hard all over the country
While the California Employment Development Department (EDD) reports that employers added 114,400 nonfarm payroll jobs in July 2021, the unemployment rate for the state remains at 7.6 percent. In September 2020, the California EDD put out an alert asking California residents to keep an eye out for fraudulent activity in regards to unemployment benefits in the state.
According to the Los Angeles Times, as of January 26, 2021, California officials say unemployment fraud has totals of more than $11 billion. California has paid out $114 billion in unemployment benefits since March 2020, and the state EDD has processed 19 million claims.
Some residents of West Virginia are receiving unemployment benefit cards they never requested.
The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment says the state has seen nearly 10,000 fake claims. The identity thieves are believed to be just as busy with the filing, too. Many victims have contacted the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) over complaints of unemployment benefits identity theft.
Unemployment benefits identity theft is nothing new
Unemployment benefits identity theft is nothing new. In fact, it is one of many types of government identity theft that can occur when a scammer uses stolen personally identifiable information to apply for benefits through the government. However, with so many consumers filing at the same time, an unfortunate number of people have already reported that a scammer beat them to it. Their claims have been rejected for being duplicate applications while someone else is now set up to receive their benefits.
Like many forms of identity theft, unemployment benefits identity theft is one that victims may not discover until the damage is done. If a claim is turned down for unemployment benefits due to a duplicate application, it is important for people to contact the unemployment agency immediately; the ITRC is another resource to guide victims in this challenge (888.400.5530). In the meantime, there are other ways consumers should take action if their claims are rejected:
Place a freeze on your credit report if it’s feasible
Victims might need to open a new line of credit while they are out of work, but that shouldn’t stop them from placing a freeze. Thawing a credit freeze is extremely simple and quick. This can help block an identity thief who may have their personally identifiable information (since they applied for unemployment benefits in their name) from using it for other purposes.
Monitor accounts carefully
Once again, if a thief has enough information to apply for benefits, they could have access to other information or accounts. Consumers should keep a careful watch on all of their accounts, including their credit reports, and change any online passwords.
Be aware that applying for unemployment is only one step
An identity thief may also fraudulently apply for nutrition assistance, WIC, medical coverage or other benefits. If there are any issues involving those services and someone’s identity, people should contact those agencies immediately.
It is a stressful time for many, and scammers are looking to add to it in many different ways, including unemployment benefits identity theft. It’s also exceptionally difficult given the volume of calls and reduction in services from organizations that a victim needs to contact.
However, the ITRC is here for anyone who falls victim to government identity theft. Victims can also live-chat with an expert advisor or download the ID Theft Help App that will allow them to track their steps in a case log, and get on-the-go assistance.
The post was originally published on 4/10/2020 and was updated on 9/15/2021