It is an unfortunate reality that there are people in the world that see an opportunity to take advantage of tragedy and misfortune. The COVID-19 pandemic is no different.
You should never give your social security number, credit card information, financial information, or other personal information to anyone over the phone, or on an unsecured website.
Any website you provide personal or financial information to should always be a secured website with “https://” as a part of the web address.
Throughout the country individuals are reporting fraudulent unemployment claims being made in their name. The U.S. Secret Service issued an alert last week warning that Washington state was the primary state targeted by a “well-organized Nigerian fraud ring exploiting the COVID-19 crisis to commit large-scale fraud against state unemployment insurance programs.” The alert indicated evidence “of attacks in North Carolina, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Oklahoma, Wyoming, and Florida.” These attacks may have caused “potential losses in the hundreds of millions of dollars.”
Employment Security Department Commissioner Suzi Levine did not state what fraction of the 1.6 million unemployment claims filed in Washington since March have been fraudulent.
At a press conference Thursday, Levine explained that a number of steps had been taken by the Employment Security Department to prevent new fraudulent claims from being filed or paid, but would not specify the steps, to avoid alerting criminals.
Levine shared that state officials are attempting to recover the stolen money, but didn’t confirm if these efforts have been successful.
It was clarified that no data breach within the employment department occurred. Levine stated that the criminals gained access to individuals’ personal data from other agencies.
Washington’s Emergency Management Division also warns that “Identity Theft is on the rise with people filing false claims, loans and credit cards to steal people’s lives. During these times of COVID-19, accessing your credit is important. That’s why the three major credit bureaus are now offering free weekly online reports through April 2021. You can access the reports at https://www.usa.gov/credit-reports#item-35087.”
“You may also want to place a “credit freeze,” which is also free and can be done online,” the EMD announcement continues. “You can place a freeze on your own credit files and on those of your children age 16 or younger. A “credit freeze” will help prevent fraudulent applications. https://www.usa.gov/credit-reports#item-214215.”
Preying on the giving nature of others during a crisis is not a new phenomenon.
As said above, never give your personal or financial information to any person or company you have not verified. If you receive a phone call from someone claiming to be from a financial institution or government agency, call them back on the publicly published number before providing any payment or personal information.
If you receive calls, emails, or other communications claiming to be from the Treasury Department and offering COVID-19 related grants or stimulus payments in exchange for personal financial information, or an advance fee, or charge of any kind, including the purchase of gift cards, please do not respond. These are scams. Please contact the FBI at www.ic3.gov so that the scammers can be tracked and stopped.
Fraud involving payment of Federal taxes should be reported to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.
It is important to only give donations to charities that you have confirmed are reputable, and that are transparent in where the money you are donating goes.
GoFundMe and other crowdfunding campaigns are also common methods to raise money with unscrupulous intentions. Only donate to those you personally know, or who has been vouched for by someone you trust. If you do donate to a crowdfunding campaign, only donate an amount you would be willing to throw into a fire.
It is important to report fraud as soon as you discover it.
Reporting Unemployment Fraud:
To report a fraudulent unemployment claim, go to this website: https://esd.wa.gov/unemployment/unemployment-benefits-fraud
The Employment Security Department has outlined the following information you will need when reporting fraudulent claims:
- Your full name
- Last 4 numbers of your Social Security number (never put your full SSN in an email)
- Your address
- Your date of birth
- Brief description of how you found out an imposter-fraud claim was filed using your information
- Please let us know: If an imposter-fraud claim was filed using your information, do you give us permission to deny and cancel it?
- Go to the FTC identity theft website: www.identitytheft.gov for great resources on reporting
- Request your free credit reports via www.annualcreditreport.com and review them for other fraudulent activities
- Go to atg.wa.gov/recovering-identity-theft-or-fraud for additional tips from the Washington State Attorney General
- Learn more about other scams and how to protect yourself on the state’s coronavirus website