By MoneyWise Staff
Wednesday, August 19, 2020
When the pandemic hit, we pretty much entered a new recession, cancelling out most of the employment gains from the last 10 years. An improvement from April, the United States unemployment rate in June was 11%. That is higher than it’s been any time in the last 70 years. Whether returning to work or finding a new way to make an income, there is one thing we all still need to worry about: identity theft.
Thousands of Hoosiers have been impacted by thieves using stolen information to cash in on funds from the federal CARES act passed by Congress. The CARES act money is supposed to help those who are unemployed during the pandemic. An investigation by 13News reveals three Indiana residents who were caught off guard and alarmed to find their information had been used to make an unemployment claim.
"I was shocked," said Lola Best, as she found out her personal information had been registered under someone else’s account with the Department of Workforce Development (DWD).
Rosemary McQueary of Noblesville also stated that she no idea how her information ended up in the system as she is very careful.
Another Indiana man found out he was a victim of identity theft when he received a letter from the DWD requesting he pay back a ten thousand dollar overpayment. He tried to make an account on the Department’s website and was notified his social security number was already in use.
To the average Hoosier, it may be concerning to find that the DWD may not have cross-referenced data to confirm matching birthdates and legitimate information for claims filed. However, there is no system for the Department to verify employment information for claims made under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance fund. In times of emergency when there is pressure to help those in need as quickly as possible, it’s likely for some errors to occur.
The Department has taken a number of steps to combat the issues and is now cross-checking the applicant’s contact information that is provided when a claim is filed. In August, the Department sent an email to claimants to update their password and check their account status in the system. Additionally, the DWD does not hold victims of identity theft liable for any overpayment.
A recent FBI article expressed the increased amount of fraud reports regarding stolen personally identifiable information used for unemployment insurance claims during the COVID-19 pandemic. Buying stolen information online, data breaches, cold-calling impersonations, email phishing, and obtaining data from public websites are all ways for fraudsters to get their hands on personal information.
There are a few things that can tip you off to a scam. Any type of communication regarding unemployment insurance or payout, if you have not filed a claim, should be a red flag. Be sure to monitor your bank and credit card statements for suspicious transactions related to unemployment benefits. Unsolicited inquiries in any form should be ignored or reported. Lastly, beware of links and fake look-a-like sites made to mirror government agency websites. You can check the resource by hovering over a link to see where it redirects to and/or directly looking up the agency to confirm you have the legitimate government website.
If you think you are a victim, report unauthorized transactions and contact the three major credit card bureaus: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. It’s best to regularly check your credit. Placing a freeze on your credit will protect you from identity theft. Activating a credit freeze is free and secures your information so no scammer can open a line of credit in your name. The Indiana Attorney General has a website for helping Hoosiers set up security freezes, here is the link. Fraud cases can be reported to Indiana State Police, DWD, the IRS, credit bureaus, and your human resources department. The FBI also encourages victims to report fraudulent or any suspicious activities to the Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov . Also, you can use the Federal Trade Commission’s resource, identitytheft.gov, for help reporting and recovering from identity theft.
It’s unfortunate that bad actors are taking advantage of a pandemic. Know that scammers will always try to play on a victim’s emotions. Taking protective measures, like putting a credit freeze in place will stop scammers in their tracks. Remember that if it sounds too good to be true it probably is, and if you think you’ve been a victim of fraud, report it to the authorities.
The MoneyWise Matters blog has a wealth of information about managing money and avoiding fraud. You can look through the complete archive here.