The bad guys have found another way to make our lives miserable and profit while doing it. The FBI reports a spike in fraudulent unemployment claims in connection to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. And many people don't find out until they file for unemployment benefits. Here's what you need to know.

Residents in several states have been victims of criminals using stolen personally identifiable information (PII). Criminals obtain a stolen identity using a variety of techniques and then submit fraudulent unemployment insurance claims online.  Many victims don't realize it's even happened until they try to file for benefits themselves, receive paperwork from the state, or get notified by their employer that a claim has been filed.

The FBI suggests watching for these suspicious activities:

  • Receiving communications regarding unemployment insurance forms when you have not applied for unemployment benefits
  • Unauthorized transactions on your bank or credit card statements related to unemployment benefits.  Any fees involved in filing or qualifying for unemployment insurance.
  • Unsolicited inquires related to unemployment benefits
  • Fictitious websites and social media pages mimicking those of government agencies

The government agency adds protecting your personal information is key to stopping the crooks.  Here are some tips on how to protect yourself:

    • Be wary of telephone calls and text messages, letters, websites, or emails that require you to provide your personal information, especially birth dates and Social Security numbers. Be cautious with attachments and embedded links within email, especially from an unknown email sender.
    • Make yourself aware of methods fraudsters are using to obtain PII and how to combat them by following security tips issued by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, including:
      *Avoiding Social Engineering and Phishing Attacks
      *Protecting Against Malicious Code
      *Preventing and Responding to Identity Theft
    • Monitor your bank accounts on a regular basis and request your credit report at least once a year to look for any fraudulent activity. If you believe you are a victim, review your credit report more frequently.
    • Immediately report unauthorized transactions to your financial institution or credit card provider.
    • If you suspect you are a victim, immediately contact the three major credit bureaus to place a fraud alert on your credit records. Additionally, notify the Internal Revenue Service by filing an Identity Theft Affidavit (IRS Form 14039) through irs.gov or identitytheft.gov.

If you believe you have been a victim, file a report with local police, state unemployment  offices, the IRS, credit bureaus, and your employer. The FBI would also like you to contact the Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov. More tips on reporting and recovering from identity theft are available at identitytheft.gov.