A form of identity theft, unemployment fraud appears to be on the rise amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Thus, it’s more important than ever to understand what unemployment fraud is, how to guard against it, and what to do if you suspect that you have been the victim of unemployment fraud. The following will cover the basic information that you need to know.
What is unemployment fraud?
Unemployment fraud can take many different forms. Sometimes, it involves a claimant filing for unemployment benefits for which they don’t actually qualify. They knowingly provide false information in order to collect benefits to which they’re not entitled.
Unemployment fraud can also involve identity theft. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this form of unemployment fraud has occurred on a relatively large scale. Scammers have been filing for unemployment benefits by providing the personal information of others who have not yet filed for such benefits.
How can you prevent unemployment fraud?
Guarding against unemployment fraud essentially involves taking the same steps as you would to prevent any other type of identity theft. This includes never providing any other party with your Social Security number unless you’re thoroughly certain that you can trust them.
Keep in mind that “phishers” often try to collect information such as the Social Security numbers or passwords of their targets by sending fake emails designed to appear as though they were sent from actual businesses or organizations with which their targets may have accounts, such as banks. Thus, it’s a good idea to thoroughly review all the signs of a phishing email, as well.
You should also take the time to create a strong password when opening any type of online account. While it can prove challenging to have to remember all those complex passwords, it’s much more frustrating to find yourself the victim of identity theft. Additionally, if you have the option of adding an extra authentication step when creating an account, you should make use of it.
You should also review the policies of your bank and other financial institutions that you have accounts with to find out if they offer transaction alerts. If so, you should opt-in so that you can quickly learn if there have been any unapproved transactions.
You should also be very cautious when discarding any financial records or similar documents. Yes, it’s easier to simply throw a bank statement in the garbage than it is to shred it. However, if you don’t shred these documents, someone could easily find them in the trash and use them to steal your identity.
Many people also don’t realize that hackers are increasingly stealing information from people using public WiFi networks. While you could potentially find yourself having to use public WiFi, you should try to avoid situations where you are required to enter into any transaction or to type in passwords or other such information.
You shouldn’t ignore alerts about data breaches, either. If you receive an alert letting you know that a company or organization you have an account with was the target of a successful data breach, you should take the time to change your password. It’s best just to assume that your data has been stolen.
What should you do if you believe you’ve been the target of unemployment fraud?
You should take several steps right away if you have reason to suspect someone is collecting unemployment benefits under your name. If you’re employed, you should report the situation to your employer and ensure that you document it.
In other words, you shouldn’t merely call them up and tell them about the situation. Rather, you should send an email and/or letter so that you’ve got proper documentation.
Next, you should report the suspected fraud to your state unemployment benefits agency. Since the contact information for such agencies will naturally vary by state, you’ll need to look it up.
Fortunately, many agencies enable you to file fraud reports online. You should consider doing so if this is an option. Filing a report isn’t just easier this way. It also ensures there’s documentation showing that you have filed a report.
That said, even if you file your report online, during the process you may have to speak with one or more representatives of your state’s unemployment agency. If it becomes necessary to do so, you should keep a record of who you spoke with, when you spoke with them, and what you spoke about. Also, you should be sure to keep any information that you’re provided, such as a case number.
After that, head to IdentityTheft.gov to report the fraud to the Federal Trade Commission. After you have done so, you’ll ideally have a one-year fraud alert placed on your credit and have access to free credit reports. In addition, fraudulent accounts in your name will be closed.
Over the course of the next year, you should also regularly monitor your credit reports for signs of suspicious activity. While you’ll hopefully never find yourself in this situation, it’s crucial to know what to do if you ever become the victim of unemployment fraud.