Millions of Americans have received unemployment benefits in the last year, and a stimulus bill under consideration in Congress would pay an extra $400 week in jobless benefits in the future.
Scammers have noticed and have come up with a new scheme to steal some money. It’s actually a different form of identity theft. Scammers steal an identity and file a claim for unemployment benefits.
They’re stealing identities the way they always have. They trick people into sharing their Social Security numbers and other information. Other scammers make cold calls to potential victims and manipulate them into sharing personal information.
One crook told USA Today that he compiles a list of real people, then turns to the “dark web” to purchase corresponding dates of birth and Social Security numbers. Apparently, it’s all out there.
Easy money for fraudsters
Armed with that information, the scammer files a claim for unemployment benefits and can collect the money until the government discovers the scheme. It can be quite lucrative.
But you might be wondering how you, the victim, are harmed. There are more ways than you might think.
The state unemployment office may send your employer a letter to confirm your last day of employment. That could be a little awkward if you’re still on the payroll and might be difficult to explain.
But like any other form of identity theft, it can also harm you financially. Unemployment benefits are taxable. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is going to expect you to pay the taxes, not the scammer who collected the ill-gotten benefits.
How to protect yourself
According to the Better Business Bureau, there are ways you can protect yourself. If you receive an official notification about an unemployment claim that you never made, you need to report it. You’ll find your state’s contact info on this list.
Make sure you check your credit report at least once a year. An unemployment claim in your name means that scammers have your personal information. Under federal law, you can get free access to your credit reports from all three credit reporting agencies once a year at AnnualCreditReport.com.
Finally, remain alert for any strange communication from your state unemployment office that mentions jobless benefits that you have not received.