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What to do if a scammer claims unemployment benefits in your name

A lawsuit against Florida regarding delays with its unemployment website continues moving forward in court. (MGN)
A lawsuit against Florida regarding delays with its unemployment website continues moving forward in court. (MGN)(WJHG)
Published: Jun. 3, 2020 at 12:20 PM EDT
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As millions of Americans have lost their jobs and filed for unemployment during the COVID-19 pandemic, federal officials are warning that others may be taking advantage of the situation to file for unemployment in the name of someone who's been fortunate enough to not have to.

The Federal Trade Commission calls it a "large-scale scam erupting in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic."

According to the FTC, impostors are filing claims for unemployment benefits using the names and personal information of people who have not filed claims.

Say you're an essential employee who has been working long hours throughout the pandemic, and then one day, you get a notice from your state's unemployment office about your application for benefits — That's how people are learning about this scam when it happens to them.

If that situation describes something you've experienced, it means someone is using your personal information, likely including your Social Security number and date of birth.

You need to act fast to stop it, the FTC says.

Here are the steps you can take to protect your finances and your credit, according to the FTC:

Report the fraud to your employer.

Keep a record of who you spoke with and when.

Report the fraud to your state unemployment benefits agency.

You can find state agencies

.

• If possible, report the fraud online. An online report will save you time and be easier for the agency to process.

• Keep any confirmation or case number you get. If you speak with anyone, keep a record of who you spoke with and when.

Visit IdentityTheft.gov to report the fraud to the FTC and get help with the next important recovery steps.

These include placing a free, one-year fraud alert on your credit, getting your free credit reports, and closing any fraudulent accounts opened in your name. 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.

For the next year, you

through

. This can help you spot any new fraud quickly.

Another key thing to consider is that the unemployment payments set up by the impostor will usually be deposited into accounts under their control, but sometimes, payments may get sent to your account.

If that happens, it may look like free money at first, and then the impostor may call, text, or email you to try to get you to send some or all of the money to them, pretending to be the state unemployment agency saying the money was sent by mistake or someone distraught that their money went to you. But that's a

that could cause you even more difficult in trying to sort it out afterward.

If you get benefits you never applied for, report it to your state unemployment agency immediately and ask for instructions. Don’t respond to any calls, emails, or text messages telling you to wire money, send cash, or put money on gift cards. Your state agency will never tell you to repay money that way. Anyone who tells you to do those things is a scammer.

This is just the latest of many scams taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic. You can learn more about many others

.


Other coronavirus scams to look out for:

Some examples of the many coronavirus scams that have been circulating include:

• Government relief check scams: Scammers send you a message make a social media post claiming you qualify for a COVID-19 government grant and just need to click a link to fill out the "necessary" personal information. In the process, your identifying information is stolen.

What to do:

No matter what the message, don’t click! In addition to taking your money, these sites can also download malware to your device and use your information for identity theft.

• Treatment scams: Scammers are offering to sell fake cures, vaccines, and advice on unproven treatments for COVID-19.

• Supply scams: Scammers are creating fake shops, websites, social media accounts, and email addresses claiming to sell medical supplies currently in high demand, such as surgical masks. When consumers attempt to purchase supplies through these channels, fraudsters pocket the money and never provide the promised supplies.

What to do:

Check out the seller by searching online for the person or company’s name, phone number and email address, plus words like “review,” “complaint” or “scam.” If everything checks out, pay by credit card and keep a record of your transaction. If you’re concerned about the pricing of products in your area, contact your state consumer protection officials.

• Provider scams: Scammers are also contacting people by phone and email, pretending to be doctors and hospitals that have treated a friend or relative for COVID-19, and demanding payment for that treatment.

• Charity scams: Scammers are soliciting donations for individuals, groups, and areas affected by COVID-19. Some scammers use names that sound a lot like the names of real charities. This is one reason it pays to do some research before giving. Money lost to bogus charities means less donations to help those in need.

What to do:

You can use

to help research legitimate charities before giving.

• Phishing scams: Scammers posing as national and global health authorities, including the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), are sending phishing emails designed to trick recipients into downloading malware or providing personal identifying and financial information. If you click on a link, they can install ransomware or other programs that can lock you out of your data. Scammers often use familiar company names or pretend to be someone you know.

What to do:

Protect your computer by keeping your software up to date and by using security software, your cell phone by setting software to update automatically, your accounts by using multi-factor authentication, and your data by backing it up.

• App scams: Scammers are also creating and manipulating mobile apps designed to track the spread of COVID-19 to insert malware that will compromise users’ devices and personal information.

• Robocall scams: Scammers are using illegal robocalls to pitch everything from scam Coronavirus treatments to work-at-home schemes.

What to do:

Hang up. Don’t press any numbers. The recording might say that pressing a number will let you speak to a live operator or remove you from their call list, but it might lead to more robocalls, instead.

• Investment scams: Scammers are offering online promotions on various platforms, including social media, claiming that the products or services of publicly traded companies can prevent, detect, or cure COVID-19, and that the stock of these companies will dramatically increase in value as a result. These promotions are often styled as "research reports," make predictions of a specific "target price," and relate to microcap stocks, or low-priced stocks issued by the smallest of companies with limited publicly available information.

• Price Gouging scams: Individuals and businesses may sell essential goods, like hand sanitizer, for significantly higher prices than in a non-emergency setting. It is legally considered price gouging when the price of one of these products increases more than 20 percent its price one week prior to an emergency declaration from the Commonwealth of Virginia.

What to do:

Anti-price gouging statutes are in effect because of statewide states of emergency. If you see price gouging, you should report it to Attorney General Herring’s Consumer Protection Section. You can do that by calling (800) 552-9963, emailing consumer@oag.state.va.us, or going through the online

. More info is

.

• Misinformation and rumors: Scammers, and sometimes well-meaning people, share information that hasn’t been verified.

What to do:

Before you pass on any messages, and certainly before you pay someone or share your personal information, do some fact checking by contacting trusted sources. For information related to the Coronavirus, visit

. There you’ll find links to federal, state and local government agencies.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) also has a breakdown of even more coronavirus-related scams

.

And remember: government agencies do not communicate through social media avenues like Facebook. So, be wary of unsolicited messages. Also, do not pay any money for a "free" government grant.

What you can do

In Virginia, you can report scams or price gouging to Attorney General Herring’s Consumer Protection Section by calling (800) 552-9963, emailing consumer@oag.state.va.us, or going through the online

. More info is

.

In West Virginia, the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Hotline – 1-800-368-8808 – is open to anyone wishing to report scams, price gouging or other manners by which bad actors may try to take advantage of consumers during the pandemic. Written complaints can also be filed at

.

If you believe you have been the victim of fraud, or need more information about COVID-19 scams, click

.

To report fraud directly to the FBI, click

.

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