Coronavirus Scams Target Unemployment Benefits
Unemployment scams have become more lucrative during COVID-19, as states are providing unemployed workers with an additional $600 a week in unemployment insurance benefits as part of the CARES Act through at least July 2020. The Identity Theft Resource Center has received more complaints of unemployment identity theft in the first two weeks of May, 2020 as they did in all of 2019. Certain states, such as Washington, Massachusetts, Florida, Oklahoma, and Rhode Island, have seen a particularly heightened increase of fraudulent unemployment claims, catching hundreds of thousands of individuals off-guard, and bilking millions of dollars from the system with false claims.
The imposter scam, using stolen personal information to apply for unemployment payments, has also become easier to accomplish since manual verification processes have been suspended during social distancing restrictions. This type of identity fraud is hard to detect if you are currently employed and is often not caught until you are denied benefits upon filing legitimately, or you receive a letter in the mail.
If you do receive an unexpected letter from your state unemployment insurance office, detailing unemployment claims using your personal information (Social Security number, birth date, name, or address) that you have not made, you should report the suspected fraud immediately.
Job Listing Scams Targeting the Unemployed
As the United States faces unemployment levels not seen since the Great Depression, scammers are seeing an opportunity to cash in with employment scams. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis in December, over 13,000 job listing scams have been reported to the Better Business Bureau.
If it is too good to be true, the employment opportunity is probably a job scam targeting your personal information — specifically, your Social Security number — or your banking details. Red flags of an employment scam include a job requires an upfront fee, either for a background check or work equipment, or asks for your bank account number for direct deposits before you even interview. These requirements are all ploys targeting your financial information.
Tips to Protect Yourself from Scams
- Report the scam. File a complaint with the FTC, file a non-emergency police report so you have documentation of the suspected identity theft, notify your current and former employers for the past 18 months, and consider placing credit freezes with all three major consumer credit bureaus.
- Do not click on links or attachments. Beware of emails with job offers that you didn’t request, or are from an unknown source.
- Apply for jobs with caution. Be cautious of opportunities where communications feel urgent, or you are rushed to send proof of documentation and tax forms before holding an interview or signing a contract. During social distancing requirements, legitimate organizations will conduct phone or video conference interviews if in-person interviews are not an option, and most will require more than one so you can meet with multiple people.