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FRAUD ALERT

Driven by the economic downturn brought on by pandemic related restrictions, unemployment across the U.S. is at a historic high. While national and local averages slowly decline across the country, unemployment fraud is on the rise.

For many the unemployment benefit is a lifeline. Unfortunately, for some bad actors it is an opportunity. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), unemployment fraud is up significantly and there is suspicion that the culprits are based overseas. Officials say the fraud is affecting tens of thousands of Americans, slowing the delivery of benefits to those in need, and costing states hundreds of millions of dollars.

Whether you have lost your job, or not, you could be a victim of identity theft related to this unemployment scam. Authorities report that criminals are filing for unemployment benefits online using stolen information of people who have not lost their jobs. Stolen identities can be bought online, or obtained from data breaches, email phishing schemes, or from physical theft. Fraudsters also exploit public websites and social media accounts. Many victims are unaware of the identity theft unless they are notified by a state agency, the IRS, or their employer that a claim has been filed in their name.

The federal government advises consumers to be on the lookout for red flags like communication about unemployment when you have not applied for benefits, unsolicited inquiries related to unemployment, or postal delivery of a debit card for receipt of benefits. More than 58,000 fraudulent unemployment claims have been filed in Massachusetts alone, and officials have stopped payment on more than 158 million dollars of benefits as a result.

If you have been a victim of identity theft related to a fraudulent unemployment insurance claim, notify your local law enforcement, the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA), the IRS, and the credit reporting bureaus. If you are currently employed, you should notify your employer’s human resources department.

The FBI encourages victims to report fraudulent or even suspicious activities to the Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov. You may also want to consult www.identitytheft.gov for help in reporting and recovering from identity theft.

In an effort to protect claimants, employers, and their personal information, the DUA has posted alerts for known scams related to collecting unemployment benefits on their website at www.mass.gov/info-details/unemployment-insurance-scams#scam-red-flags-.

The Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation offers a Consumer’s Check List for Handling Identity Theft: www.mass.gov/doc/a-consumers-checklist-for-handling-identity-theft-0/download.

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