3 ways to spot if you're a victim of an unemployment insurance scam: Internet Scambusters #990
Unemployment insurance has been a boon for millions during the pandemic. But it's also been a boon for scammers.
Government sources says there's been a big surge in fraudulent claims and innocent people could be the victims.
In this week's issue, we'll tell you how the scams work and the three key warning signs.
Let's get started…
Surge In Unemployment Insurance Scams Sparks Government Warning
Millions of unemployment insurance claimants are being targeted across the US in nationwide phishing schemes.
The main scam starts with a text or email message seeming to come from the victim's state workforce agency (SWA) claiming there's an error in their claim. This can be solved, the message claims, by verifying certain personal details.
Following a link in the message takes the individual to a fake SWA page where they're supposed to reactivate their claim by providing personal details.
Of course, it's an identity theft phishing attempt, which is raging across the US right now. Once they have your details, the crooks use them to file a benefit claim for themselves.
How do you know it's a scam? Government agencies like this don't send text messages asking for verification or other confidential information. So, if you get one, you know instantly it's fake.
The messages are being sent out at random, so you may receive one even if you haven't made a claim.
Crime Rings at Work
Sadly, that's not the end of the matter. Scammers who buy stolen personal information from other crooks at just $2 a time are also filing claims for people who aren't even entitled to payment. Government agencies report a big increase in this crime during the past couple of months.
"States have experienced a surge in fraudulent unemployment claims filed by organized crime rings using stolen identities that were accessed or purchased from past data breaches," says the US Department of Labor (DOL).
Many of the breaches may have happened years ago and the information is only now filtering onto the black market.
"Criminals are using these stolen identities to fraudulently collect benefits across multiple states," the DOL adds.
There are three tell-tale signs of this scam:
- Receiving an official message or even an unexpected payment when you haven't filed a claim, usually because you're not unemployed.
- You are a claimant and you get an IRS form 1099-G with the wrong information about the benefits you've received or are expecting. The form may even come from a state where you haven't filed a claim.
- You have a job but get a notification from your employer saying they've received a request for information about a claim you're supposed to have made (but didn't).
Don't just ignore any of these messages or keep money you're not entitled to. First, keeping the cash might be considered a crime. And second, it means someone has your personal financial details and this could be just one of several frauds that use your ID.
So, report it immediately.
"Unless from a known and verified source, consumers should never click on links in text messages or emails claiming to be from an SWA offering the opportunity to apply for unemployment insurance benefits," the Justice Department warns.
Instead, anyone needing to apply for unemployment benefits should go to an official SWA website. The US Department of Labor (DOL) has set up a page listing state-by-state phone numbers to report unemployment insurance fraud.
You should also report any scam messages to the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) by calling 866-720-5721 or using the NCDF Web Complaint Form.
Additionally, contact the IRS and check your bank and credit card accounts as well as the major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) in case your details are being used for other crimes.
This latest surge is part of a massive growth in unemployment insurance fraud that has been underway since the COVID pandemic started, followed by the implementation of the CARES Act that financed the payments.
Imposters are reckoned to have netted as much as $36 billion. There are even how-to-scam unemployment insurance guides that have been shared in anonymous messaging apps.
This Week's Scam Alerts
- If you install Android programs and files to your mobile device from a non-official app store or other source, a practice called sideloading, you could be a target for a new generation of malware that can bypass security checks. Identified only in the past couple of weeks, it's called SharkBot. It steals financial information from your phone and is expected to become the next big thing in malware. Best advice: Don't sideload!
- Retailing warehouse Costco discovered card skimmers on some card readers at four of its stores in the Chicago area in November. About 500 customers were affected before the skimmers were removed, and Costco says it has notified them all. But the incident is a timely warning about the risks of compromised card readers in retail stores. They mainly affect old-type cards with magnetic stripes. You may not be able to spot a skimmer, but you should monitor your bank and card account, daily if you can, for warning signs.
- If you got an unexpected $100 gift card from Microsoft, you could be forgiven for suspecting a scam. But it's not. The firm has sent out 25,000 of them -- plus another 25,000 $10 cards, at random. They can only be spent at Microsoft.
- Trash any emails you receive saying you have been "shosen" (instead of "chosen") "from CVS Pharmacy." Chosen for what, we don't know. But if you click on the link to a supposed survey, you'll be on your way to trouble.
Time to conclude for today -- have a great week!