How to Protect Yourself From Unemployment Fraud

people standing in line to collect legitimate unemployment benefits

At a time when millions of hard-working Americans are struggling with unemployment because of the COVID-19 pandemic, fraudsters are hard at work stealing money meant to help the unemployed.

And these scammers are not only filing fraudulent claims for those who've lost their jobs; they're filing fraudulent claims for people who have no need for unemployment insurance benefits.

How do we know? It happened to one of our own!

Earlier this week I took a call from one of my co-workers who told me that her spouse had received a letter from the Massachusetts Department of Revenue to inform him they'd received his unemployment claim and to verify some information about his unemployment.

The problem? Her husband had never filed a claim and was, in fact, gainfully employed! My co-worker had asked me if I'd heard anything about this happening with other people, so I did a bit of sleuthing.

According to The New York Times, an international group of criminals has launched attacks on a number of state's unemployment systems, including Massachusetts', to steal money meant to help Americans during this pandemic.

These scammers, believed to be part of a Nigerian crime ring, are using stolen personal identification to file claims and collect money via direct deposit. Their take is estimated to be in the millions of dollars at this point. (My co-worker confirmed her husband's personal information had been compromised in a scam at his previous workplace, as well as in the Equifax breach.)

Kris Pender, Hanscom FCU's chief human resources officer, said, "It's happening everywhere and something people need to be vigilant about right now. Normally unemployment offices check with employers before issuing payments, but because people who are self-employed can get pandemic-specific assistance, there are no checks with employers for this type of assistance as unemployment offices normally do for standard unemployment claims, which makes it easier for fraud to occur."

The scope of this fraudulent activity is so broad that the U.S. Secret Service has its field offices on high alert and they're investigating aggressively, as are other federal and state law enforcement agencies.

So what do you do if you find out you've been the victim of a false unemployment claim? If you're a Massachusetts resident, start by reporting unemployment fraud online via a web form or email at https://www.mass.gov/how-to/report-unemployment-insurance-fraud. 

If you live outside of Massachusetts, the U.S. Department of Labor has created a state-by-state list of resources at: https://www.dol.gov/general/maps/fraud.

During these troubling times, it's important, more than ever, to remain vigilant about your finances. Once you've reported the fraud, here are the next steps you need to take:

  • File a police report with your local police department and get a copy of that report to provide to your creditors and credit reporting agencies.
  • Change the passwords on your email, banking, and other sensitive accounts
  • Contact your credit card companies, credit unions, banks, and other financial institutions where you do business and let them know you're a victim of identity theft. Request that fraud alerts be placed on your accounts.
  • Obtain a copy of your credit report and dispute any fraudulent transactions you see. By law, you're entitled to a copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies once every twelve months through AnnualCreditReport.com. You can also reach them at (877) 322-8228. 
  • Place a credit freeze with each of the three major credit reporting agencies:
  • Place a fraud alert on your credit file. You can do this by contacting just one of the credit agencies to add an alert with all three agencies.
  • Take notes of all conversations you have and keep careful records.

Lastly, never volunteer personal information to anyone calling you on the telephone. Scammers may be calling you to obtain more personal information they can use to their advantage.

Stay ahead of the scammers who want your wallet and subscribe to the MoneyWisdom blog. We'll not just tell you how their criminal schemes work, we'll give you expert advice how to protect yourself and your assets. Subscribe today!

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About Author

Diana Burrell
Diana Burrell

Diana Burrell is the communications manager at Hanscom FCU and edits the MoneyWisdom blog. She has a background in magazine journalism, as well as marketing, advertising, and public relations, and has written over a dozen books. You can reach her at dburrell@hfcu.org.

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