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Security & privacy

Unemployment scams: Red flags someone stole your identity

The COVID-19 pandemic has left a devastating economic impact on working Americans. More than 40 million unemployment claims were filed at its peak, and that’s not even counting gig workers and self-employed people.

If you or someone you know needs to file, there is a way to speed up the process. Tap or click here for an app that can help.

The sheer number of unemployed has led to an outbreak of criminals filing fake unemployment claims in unsuspecting victims’ names. Not only that, but cybercriminals are now creating spoofed unemployment sites, luring victims there by sending spam text messages and emails to steal personal information. Keep reading to find out what’s going with these dangerous schemes.

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 result from 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.

RELATED: Tap or click here to see how bad the scams have gotten during the pandemic

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 protect from phishing scams

According to the Department of Justice, these phishing messages look like they’re from a state workforce agency (SWA) and give people links to fake sites. When people enter their sensitive personal information on fake sites, scammers can use the information for identity theft.

One spoofed site even asked visitors to click a link if they did not file for unemployment insurance. They have all their bases covered. Of course, that link is malicious and will result in scammers stealing your personal information.

Some things to keep in mind include an SWA will not contact you out of the blue. SWAs will not send a text message or email inviting you to apply for unemployment insurance benefits.

Here are some more suggestions from the FTC to avoid these phishing scams:

  • Never click links in an unexpected text message or email claiming to be from an SWA.
  • If you have applied for UI benefits and get a text or email about your application, contact your SWA directly using its official website’s contact information.
  • If you need to apply for UI benefits, use this link to find your state’s UI application page. Follow the directions you find there.
  • If you gave someone your sensitive information, visit to learn how to protect your credit from scammers or, if necessary, report that someone has misused your personal information to claim UI benefits.

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.

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