With so much personal information stored online these days, identity theft has become a big issue for Americans. Regrettably, the current pandemic has opened up a new way for fraudsters to use stolen identities. What are they doing and what can you do about it?
Part of the government’s response to the Coronavirus outbreak has been to get enhanced unemployment benefits into the hands of consumers as quickly as possible. One of those programs – Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) – extended the reach of unemployment benefits to self-employed “gig” workers, who are not usually able to file for unemployment.
Because these gig workers don’t have a company employer, verification isn’t tight. All a gig worker has to do to get their hands on PUA benefits is “self-certify” that they’re self-employed. By doing so, they get access to an extra $600 per week in Federal unemployment benefits.
Fraudsters are using data they’ve stolen over the last few years to file false unemployment claims so they can steal that extra $600 of weekly PUA benefits.
The issue has become so worrisome that the Illinois Department of Employment Security and other states have issued warnings to consumers to be on the lookout for suspicious activity.
How prevalent is this fraud? The state of Colorado shared a graph recently (below) showing that 1/3 of unemployment claims were deemed to be suspicious. And half of those were ultimately found to be fraudulent.
What Can You Do To Protect Your Credit?
First, be on the lookout for suspicious mail.
Many victims of this fraud receive a debit card in the mail that gives them access to unemployment benefits. Others receive a letter of confirmation from their state’s employment department.
Second, check your credit report.
This is something everyone should be doing at least once a year. But if you haven’t looked at your report in a while, now is a good time to do it.
We like free credit report options. By law, each person has access to their credit reports for free at annualcreditreport.com. Credit Karma is also a good site to use, although you have to wade through some sales pitches in order to get to your free credit report.
You want to make sure you recognize everything on your credit report. If something doesn’t look right, that could be a sign that your identity has been compromised.
Thirdly, report fraud to the state’s employment security department.
Finally – if you are a victim of this fraud – report it to your state’s employment security department. Because this type of fraud is so common, most states have a dedicated page where you can report it. And don’t use those debit cards if you got one!
Wondering how this affects your future finances? Schedule a call with Financial Design Studio, financial advisors in Deer Park, to discuss your portfolio today.