As the U.S. unemployment rate continues to remain higher than normal as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, so does the opportunity for fraudsters to take advantage of the dire situation. In recent weeks, reports of crime rings preying on unsuspecting victims and falsely reaping millions of dollars in benefits of unemployment insurance have been flooding in. To help protect your information, finances, and reputation during this unsettling time, we have broken down everything you need to know about the unemployment imposter scam.

How unemployment imposter fraud works

Criminals are stealing individual’s personally identifiable information (PII) such as their name, address, birthday, or Social Security number and leveraging it to file an unemployment claim. Targets of unemployment fraud can be employed or not, meaning that if you are employed, you could be investigated for benefitting from unemployment insurance while still employed.

For example:

John is an essential worker who is targeted by an imposter ring. His Social Security number is stolen and used to file an unemployment claim with his company. The fraudsters collect the benefits of the unemployment insurance issued to John, without him ever knowing. John could be investigated for falsely claiming unemployment while having a job and potentially held liable to pay back the funds that were stolen by the criminals.

Imposter scammers have been largely targeting first responders, government workers, and teachers in Washington, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Oklahoma, Wyoming, and Florida.

Knowing if you are a victim

If you are attempting to file for unemployment yourself, you may find that false claims have already been made on your behalf. Only one claim can be filed under your name or Social Security number, so this will prevent you from accessing your unemployment insurance benefits. You may also receive a notice in the mail informing you that a claim that you did not submit is being processed.

Staying secure

Protecting your information is more important now than ever:

  • Never divulge personal information over the phone, email, or text to someone you don’t know. Scammers may try to contact you during this time in an attempt to get your sensitive data.
  • Only visit official websites when applying for unemployment.
  • Never pay for unemployment insurance — benefits are free, so anyone asking for money to access them is not legitimate.
  • Always ask anyone claiming to be a trusted professional for identifying information.

Don’t get caught in the mix

In scams like these, fraudsters typically recruit others with bank or credit union accounts to assist in their scheme. These recruited individuals act as mules, receive the direct deposits from the fraudulent transactions, and then forward the bulk of the funds to the fraudsters, keeping a portion of the funds for themselves. These individuals, while not the fraudsters themselves, are part of the fraudulent scheme and are legally liable for their involvement.

Reporting fraud

If you believe you are a victim of unemployment imposter fraud, consider filing a report with your local police department and the Federal Trade Commission.

Checking your credit score and report for errors is also a great way to detect fraud. Review your report every week at no cost over the next year and close any accounts that you suspect have been tainted.

Check out our security page to learn how APGFCU is taking steps to keep your information secure.