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The coronavirus pandemic has placed the world on hold, shutting down businesses, social lives and the ability to earn an honest living.

While most struggle to survive, criminals are making life even harder for displaced workers who rely on unemployment funds to pay for basic necessities.

They steal identities and file false unemployment claims in hopes of collecting tens of thousands of dollar, according to the Guam Department of Labor.

Guam’s first unemployment program, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, is entering its third month and the amount of fraudulent claims has more than doubled in the last few weeks. The amount of fraud held up the eighth batch of payments, leaving those with legitimate applications without financial assistance for more than a week.

“Criminals are getting more sophisticated. Initially, it was pretty easy to spot fraudulent claims,” said David Dell’Isola, Guam Department of Labor director. “Now the claims are getting harder to pick out, and I’ve had to take my team members away from their regular tasks to focus on disqualifying fraudulent claims.”

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The agency has been working with its software vendor, the FBI and the Office of Inspector General at the U.S. Department of Labor to combat the increasing amount of fraud.

Identity theft

One of the local fraud methods — and hardest to detect — is identity theft, the local labor agency said. Criminals use a variety of methods to collect personal information, including the online purchase of personal identity information, phishing scams and trolling social media accounts.

Many victims don’t know their identities have been stolen until they try to file a claim and see their Social Security number is already in use, the agency stated.

Others don’t even know until they get a call from the Guam Department of Labor to verify information because they’re one of the lucky few who never had to file a claim because they are still working or have retired.

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One local victim received this phone call and at first thought it was a scam, the local labor agency said. Her income had never been affected during the pandemic and she had never filed an unemployment claim.

After verifying the claim was fraudulent, the Guam Department of Labor had placed the claim on hold before disqualifying it all together.

Protect youself

“Subscribing to credit protection is the smart thing to do. If you believe you may be a victim of identity theft, the first step to take would be to email the [email protected] and describe your situation,” Dell’Isola said. “PUA staff would then review the claim on our end and then ask the possible victim to come into one of our processing centers with all supporting documents necessary such as two picture IDs, their Social Security card and check stubs supporting that the claim is fraudulent.”

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Dell’Isola added: “We’re ensuring the integrity of the program remains high and that our people get the money they deserve, and not the crooks taking advantage of a national crisis.”

Tips against fraud

The FBI advises the public to be on the lookout for the following suspicious activities:

  • receiving communications regarding unemployment insurance forms when you have not applied for unemployment benefits;
  • unauthorized transactions on your bank or credit card statements related to unemployment benefits;
  •  any fees involved in filing or qualifying for unemployment insurance;
  • unsolicited inquires related to unemployment benefits; and
  • fictitious websites and social media pages mimicking those of government agencies

How to protect yourself

  • Be wary of telephone calls and text messages, letters, websites, or emails that require you to provide your personal information or other sensitive information, especially birth dates and Social Security numbers. Be cautious with attachments and embedded links within email, especially from an unknown email sender.
  • Make yourself aware of methods fraudsters are using to obtain personally identifiable information and how to combat them by following security tips issued by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, including: avoiding social engineering and phishing attacks; protecting against malicious code; and preventing and responding to identity theft.
  • Monitor your bank accounts on a regular basis and request your credit report at least once a year to look for any fraudulent activity. If you believe you are a victim, review your credit report more frequently.
  • Immediately report unauthorized transactions to your financial institution or credit card provider.
  • If you suspect you are a victim, immediately contact the three major credit bureaus to place a fraud alert on your credit records. Additionally, notify the Internal Revenue Service by filing an Identity Theft Affidavit (IRS Form 14039) through irs.gov or identitytheft.gov.

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