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Security & privacy

A sneaky type of fraud is skyrocketing – here’s what to do if it happens to you

Scammers shopping for stolen data on the Dark Web have found a scary new way to make money: unemployment fraud. With enough personal data and a viable Social Security number, it’s easy to apply for benefits.

Earlier in the year, states were having a hard time getting benefits to unemployed workers. The wait times are much shorter now, and scammers take advantage of it to avoid being noticed. Tap or click here to see an app that speeds up the process.

Data breaches and leaks are the primary sources for stolen credentials like Social Security numbers. If you believe your data was breached, you might be at risk for fraud, even if you still have a job. We’ll show you what you can do to stop the scammers.

Unemployment fraud is spiking during the COVID-19 pandemic

Workers across the country are receiving letters from employers and unemployment agencies about benefits they never applied for. If this happens to you, it could mean that someone else is cashing in on your hard-earned benefits without your knowledge.

The FTC has put out a warning about the rise of unemployment fraud during the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the past several months, the sheer volume of job losses has made it easy for imposters to file for benefits.

The problem stems from a lack of verification on the part of state government websites. Ordinary unemployment insurance claims require a W2 from the employee. Pandemic Unemployment Assistance doesn’t ask for as many documents.

Fraudsters are using stolen Social Security numbers and data to file claims in the name of people who haven’t made any yet. Some victims are still employed and find out about the scam when their employer gets a letter from a state unemployment agency.

The stolen data appears to come from breaches where SSNs were revealed. This includes incidents like the massive Equifax breach, which exposed the data of at least 147 million people. Tap or click here to see what Equifax paid out to victims.

The number of scams happening is staggering. The “New York Times” reports that Arizona flagged over a million of 2.4 million claims as potentially fraudulent. During the summer, Colorado found that 77% of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claims were faked.

Am I at risk for more fraud? How can I protect my SSN?

A radio station in Bloomington, Illinois recently got a call from a listener that had someone file an unemployment claim using her info. The station reached out to Kim for the best steps for people in this situation to take.

Kim points out that a stolen Social Security number won’t just be used for unemployment fraud. If the number is exposed, there’s a risk of further financial harm. In cases like this, take the following steps:

  • Contact the Federal Trade Commission at www.identitytheft.gov.
  • Place a fraud alert on your credit record with one of the three credit bureaus: Equifax: 1-866-349-5191, Experian: 1-888-397-3742, TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289
  • You can also call and request a credit freeze to prevent any new accounts from being opened in your name. Tap or click here to see the benefits of a credit freeze.
  • Contact your bank and card issuers to flag suspicious transactions. You may also want to set up security features like two-factor authentication for your online banking apps. Tap or click here to see how to set up 2FA for your banks.
  • Check your Social Security earnings statements online to make sure your reported wages are correct. You can do this with a free, personal my Social Security account here.

The FTC also recommends reporting fraud to your state’s unemployment benefits agency. You can find state agencies here.

By taking proactive steps to protect yourself, you’ll be able to stop identity thieves from ripping you off. That way, your benefits will be safe and ready if you ever need them.

Tap or click here to see the unemployment phishing scams the FBI wants you to know about.

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