Across the country, State unemployment programs have been targeted by criminals taking advantage of the pandemic by illegally obtaining benefits through fake claims. Today, Attorney General Tim Fox issued tips to help Montana victims of this crime.
“Criminals are taking advantage of the COVID-19 crisis by using information obtained from a variety of sources to apply for unemployment benefits that should rightfully go to Montanans financially impacted by the pandemic,” Attorney General Tim Fox said. “Be suspicious if you receive a letter saying you qualify for unemployment benefits when you didn’t apply, or if you get a letter supposedly from the IRS claiming you underreported benefits. There are several steps you can take to report the crime and protect your banking accounts and credit score,” Fox added.
Other signs your personal information was used improperly include getting requests for information to apply for unemployment benefits, or your employer was notified you applied for unemployment benefits when you did not.
If you suspect your information was used in unemployment fraud, Fox offered these tips:
• Report the incident to:
1) Your employer;
2) The Montana Department of Labor and Industry by phone at 1-888-566-5677, or online;
3) The Federal Trade Commission’s website.
• Freeze your credit. A credit freeze lets you “lock” your credit information so no one can access it without your permission. To get one, contact each of the three credit reporting agencies: TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian. If you request a credit freeze, each agency will send you a written notice when the freeze is in place, along with a PIN to make changes to the freeze.
• Put a fraud alert on your credit report. You can put a fraud alert on your credit report by contacting any of the three credit reporting agencies. They’ll share your request with the others. Placing a fraud alert doesn’t hurt your credit score.
• Check your credit report. You can get a free copy of your credit report here. Check your credit report periodically to see if it shows fraudulent activity. Normally, you’re entitled to one free credit report every 12 months; however, due to COVID-19, all three credit reporting agencies offer free weekly online reports through April 2021.
• Monitor your bank accounts. Close any account that you know/suspect has been tampered with or fraudulently opened. If scammers succeed in getting unemployment payments with your information, it usually goes into accounts they control. You won’t be required to repay benefits that were fraudulently paid out.
• Don’t respond to requests to send money. Sometimes, the fraudulent unemployment benefits can end up in your account. If this happens, scammers may try to get you to send the money to them. They may pretend to be a state agency saying the money was sent by mistake. Don’t respond to any contact telling you to return the money through methods such as wiring, sending cash, or putting money on gift cards. State agencies will never ask for payment that way.
• Don’t respond to requests for personal information. Don’t give out personal information over text, email, or phone calls you didn’t initiate. Don’t put personal information on websites or social media. Be wary of sites that say they can help you file for unemployment benefits, or people who say they can help you file for a fee. For accurate information regarding unemployment benefits, visit the Montana Department of Labor and Industry’s website.
According to the Montana Department of Labor and Industry, it has paid out more than $10 million in potentially fraudulent unemployment claims during the pandemic, but has stopped more than $220 million in fraudulent payments since the end of April.
For more information on identity theft, visit the Office of Consumer Protection’s website or call (800) 481-6896 or (406) 444-4500.