The COVID-19 pandemic has left a devastating economic impact on working Americans. At its peak, more than 40 million unemployment claims were filed, and that’s not even counting gig workers and self-employed people.
In response, Congress passed the CARES Act, which expanded unemployment insurance significantly. But despite the good intentions behind the act, the overall rollout has been less than smooth. Tap or click here to see how millions of dead Americans accidentally received checks.
Dead Americans aren’t the only ones receiving checks these days, though. The FBI has issued a warning regarding fraudulent unemployment claims that seek to take advantage of expanded benefits before the clock runs out. Here’s what’s happening, and what you can do to protect your own identity from being misused.
Scammers are benefiting from your benefits
According to a bulletin posted by the FBI National Press Office, a significant spike in fraudulent unemployment claims has been detected amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Agents say these claims are the result of outright identity theft, with perpetrators using stolen data like Social Security cards and bank account numbers.
How are scammers getting this data in the first place? Well, the FBI believes it has something to do with the deluge of phishing scams making the rounds over the last several months. Aside from phishing, there has also been an uptick in malware activity, including programs that spy on what you type and scan your system for personal data.
Phishing scams that trick you into sharing personal data are only one route to identity theft, however. For many scammers, deceptive phone calls for bogus tests and treatments are enough to procure personally-identifying information
Beyond that, it’s even easier to simply download Tor and visit a Dark Web marketplace. There, you can buy an entire person’s identity for less than $2,000 in some cases. Tap or click here to see how much your personal data sells for online.
The worst part of all this: If someone fraudulently files for unemployment in your name, you won’t be able to collect if you actually lose your job. The fraudulent claim will gum up the works while verification and investigations take place, leaving you with no money to help ease the burden of job loss.
How can I protect myself from identity theft?
As part of its bulletin, the FBI issued several red flags to check for that can tell you if your identity is being misused. If any of the following apply, you may want to contact the Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov. You may also want to consult identitytheft.gov for options to report identity theft, as well as tips on recovery.
Here are some signs of identity theft to watch for:
- You receive communications regarding unemployment insurance forms or benefits when you haven’t applied.
- Suspicious bank or credit card transactions that you did not authorize.
- Any unusual fees from government agencies involved in filing or qualifying for unemployment benefits.
- Unsolicited inquiries related to unemployment benefits
- Receiving mails from and links to suspicious websites with information about unemployment benefits.
If you keep a watchful eye for these warning signs, you can potentially stop an identity thief in the act.
Other ways to protect yourself include stronger cybersecurity measures like avoiding emails and attachments from unfamiliar senders, sticking to safe parts of the internet, and ignoring calls from phone numbers you don’t recognize.
It’s also worth activating security options like two-factor authentication for your online bank accounts. This can protect your account from unauthorized transactions, as well as overt financial and data theft. Tap or click here to see 5 ways to bank safely online.
As for personal information floating around on the Dark Web, there isn’t much that can be done about data leaks that have already happened. That’s why it’s important to have an identity theft protection company that you can trust watching your back. There is just too much work involved in protecting your identity to do it yourself.
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