Here’s how to stop fraudsters from stealing your identity to file false unemployment claims.

3 minute read

In September, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announced that it’s providing $100 million in funding available to states to battle unemployment insurance fraud. As the numbers for unemployment claims continue to skyrocket, states face “significant challenges” due to a spike in fraudulent activity and identity theft, according to the DOL.

Criminals use personally identifiable information (PII) obtained through online purchase of stolen PPI, cold-calling victims with impersonation scams, and other nefarious methods to file and collect on fake unemployment claims, according to the FBI.

States will use the DOL funds to staff or contract services for fraud investigations and fraud detection. Meanwhile, you can take steps to keep your identity safe from thieves trying to clock in with a bogus claim for unemployment benefits under your name.

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1. Beware of phishing emails and texts

Be wary of any text messages, emails, letters or websites that ask you to provide personal or other sensitive information, especially your birth date or Social Security number, warns the FBI. Use caution with attachments and embedded links, never opening attachments or clicking on links from an unknown sender.

Find out: 6 Signs of a COVID-19 Contact Tracing Scam

2. Don’t fall for debit and direct deposit card scams

States often use debit cards or direct deposit to pay unemployment compensation. But unemployment insurance scammers may also try to get sensitive, personal information under the guise of issuing state benefits, according to security software company Norton.

“One scam asks you for personal information to apply for a card. Another scam has you apply for the card and then charges you for inactivity,” says Norton. “Always make sure the source of a payment-related offer is legitimate.”

Find out: 6 Red Flags of a COVID-19 Extortion Scam

3. Don’t respond to fake phone calls or texts

One popular unemployment benefits scam involves phone or text messages falsely telling you that your unemployment benefits have been suspended, according to Norton. The only way to reactivate your account, according to the message, is to call a number and provide information such as debit card numbers and PINs.

Never provide sensitive personal information to a number not associated with your state unemployment agency. Always call your state unemployment agency directly if you want to check the status of your claim or account.

Find out: Online Pet Product Scams on the Rise Due to COVID-19

4. Know how identity thieves work

To get ahead of unemployment insurance fraudsters, it pays to familiarize yourself with the methods thieves use to get sensitive personal information. Reading about how to avoid social engineering and phishing attacks, protecting against malicious code, and preventing and responding to identity theft is a good place to start.

Find out: 11 Easy Ways to Spot a Get Out of Debt Scam

5. Monitor credit card and bank accounts

The FBI recommends monitoring your bank and credit card account statements regularly, watching for unauthorized transactions related to unemployment insurance compensation or other suspicious activity. If you notice unauthorized transactions, report the activity to your credit card company or bank immediately.

Find out: Could You Be a Cybercriminal’s Next “Money Mule” Target?

6. Don’t be fooled by fictitious websites

When filing for unemployment, don’t get tricked into providing sensitive personal information to identity thieves on fake websites mimicking official government agency sites and social media pages. Instead, call your state unemployment agency for the website address, which will usually be mentioned in the recorded greeting.

7. Review your credit report

To help catch possible identity theft that could lead to unemployment insurance fraud early, order a copy of your credit report at least once a year, scanning it for fraudulent activity, says the FBI. You can obtain one free copy of your credit report per year at AnnualCreditReport.com.

If you notice suspicious activity on your credit report, consider placing a fraud alert that notifies you if someone tries to get credit under your name with major credit bureaus. If you see an account you didn’t open on your credit report, contact all three major credit bureaus – Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax – to report fraudulent activity. Consider placing a freeze on your credit, which blocks companies from pulling your credit report while the freeze is in place.

Find out: What Happens When You Freeze Your Credit

8. Report unemployment insurance fraud

If you notice unauthorized transactions related to unemployment compensation or receive correspondence from your state unemployment agency about a claim you never filed, contact the unemployment agency immediately to report the fraud and stop payments to the identity thief.

9. Report identity theft

If you are a victim of identity theft, report it to the IRS by filing an identity theft affidavit at IRS.gov and with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at  identitytheft.gov.

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About the Author

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp is a full-time freelance writer based in Kansas City, Mo. Deb went from being unable to get approved for a credit card or loan 20 years ago to having excellent credit today and becoming a homeowner. Deb learned her lessons about money the hard way. Now she wants to share them to help you pay down debt, fix your credit and quit being broke all the time. Deb's personal finance and credit articles have been published at Credit Karma and The Huffington Post.

Published by Debt.com, LLC