Just in the last year, almost 400,000 Americans had their identities stolen and used to apply for fraudulent government unemployment benefits.
But while this kind of identity theft can happen to anyone, it doesn't have to happen to you.
So how can you protect yourself from someone trying to apply for unemployment benefits in your name?
We will tell you the steps you can take to protect yourself from becoming a victim of unemployment fraud.
What Are Unemployment Benefit Scams?
Unemployment benefit scams (or unemployment fraud) occurs when scammers steal personal information of others to impersonate and claim their benefits or evade taxes.
All unemployment scams depend on getting access to your personally identifiable information (PII). This includes your name, address, phone number, credit or debit card numbers, and social security number.
So, how do these thieves get access to your sensitive information?
Scammers impersonate government agencies in phishing emails, text messages, or phone calls. Once you engage with them, they’ll ask for personal information like your SSN, driver’s license, or credit card numbers.
How to Tell if Someone Has Filed For Unemployment in Your Name?
According to the Federal Trade Commission, people usually learn about the fraud after the scammer has already received their benefits. However, if you learn the warning signs and report the occurrence quickly, you will better your chances of recovering them.
Here are some of the ways you can find out if someone has filed for unemployment under your name:
While still employed, you get a notice saying your employer received a request for information about an unemployment claim in your name.
You receive mail about an unemployment claim you didn’t make (this could be from any state).
You apply for benefits, only to be told that someone is already claiming benefits in your name.
You receive an IRS form 1099-G showing unemployment benefits you weren’t expecting.
Top 7 Most Common Unemployment Scams
(According to Aura)
1. Sending Phishing Emails from Fake Government Accounts
One of the most common unemployment scams is receiving a fraudulent email claiming to be from a government account.
Phishing emails copy the look and tone of an official email. But the included links ask you to either hand over personal information or download malware to your device (which can allow them to hack your email).
Always avoid clicking links or downloading attachments. For added security, click or hover over the sender’s email address to see if it’s from an official “.gov” account.
2. Using Fake Texts to Steal your Information
Unemployment scammers will also target you over text. Fraudsters send texts claiming there’s an issue with your account that you need to fix immediately or face a penalty.
But when you click the link, they’ll once again either steal your personal information or send you a virus.
For example, one text scam told victims they would forfeit their benefits if they didn't click on a link to update their bank account details. Those who clicked on the link had their payment details stolen.
Again, never click on links in texts or emails if you aren’t sure who sent them. When in doubt, go to the agency’s official website and contact them directly.
3. Posting Fake Jobs Ads
Job seekers are prime targets for unemployment scammers.
Fraudsters will post fake ads on social media sites like LinkedIn and Facebook or job boards that offer high pay for minimal work. One common fake job ad involves picking up passengers at the airport for 35 hours a week with a weekly pay that works out to over $100,000 a year.
But all these fake jobs require applicants to submit personal information – such as their Social Security number or ID – in order to apply. Scammers will even create fake company pages to try and trick you using similar-looking URLS. (For example, using an extra “i” in spiiritairline.com)
Again, be diligent about who you give your information. Be especially careful with your SSN as it's not always possible to change your Social Security number, even after identity theft.
Always remember, If an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
4. Phone Calls Offering to File for Unemployment Benefits
A fraudster will offer to file for unemployment benefits on your behalf in exchange for a fee. If you accept, the fraudster takes the fee as well as any other personal information you hand over.
5. Stealing Your Information Through Paid Online Surveys
In another type of unemployment scam, con artists will offer payment for completing a survey. But to get the reward, you need to provide your personal or financial information.
These types of attacks are dangerous because we see them as a quick and easy way to make money. Again, if an offer looks especially appealing, do your due diligence first. Someone might be trying to scam you online.
6. Creating Fake Unemployment Benefit Websites
With more people searching for how to claim unemployment benefits, scammers have created spoofed websites to steal your information.
According to the FBI, these websites will use the same name as a government agency, but use misspelled names or URLs. For example, “employ-wiscon.xyz” or “Marylandgov.xzy”.
If you click on these sites, you’ll be prompted to supply sensitive information that can be used for fraud or download malware onto your device.
7. Using You as a “Money Mule” to Launder Fraudulent Benefits
Scammers can’t always directly withdraw the money they’ve received through fraudulent activity. Instead, they rely on a network of “money mules” to launder fraudulent unemployment claims.
These mules are often unknowing accomplices who withdraw funds to a mobile banking app like Venmo or Cash App, and then send them to the scammer.
If someone approaches you with a quick-money job offer like this, decline and report them to the authorities.
Victim of an Unemployment Scam? Here's What To Do:
The FTC suggests first reporting the fraud to your employer - make sure to keep a record of who you spoke with and when.
Report the fraud to your state unemployment benefits agency. You can find state agencies here.
IdentityTheft.gov also will help you add a free extended fraud alert or credit freeze to your credit report. These make it more difficult for an identity thief to open new accounts in your name.
Review your credit reports often. Through December 2022, you can check your reports every week for free through AnnualCreditReport.com. This can help you spot any new fraud quickly.
Bottom-Line: How To Avoid Unemployment Benefits Scams?
Be very selective about who you share personal information with.
Don’t respond to unsolicited emails, SMS, or phone calls related to filing an unemployment benefit claim.
When applying for benefits or jobs, carefully examine each web page.
Make sure the URL is spelled correctly.
If someone contacts you directly claiming to be from a government agency, get their information and validate it with a reliable source like Google.
Please share this information to keep others protected from these scams!