COLUMBUS — In a time of record unemployment, scammers are taking advantage of the situation nationwide.
More than 255,000 Ohioans have reported identity theft related to an unemployment scam since mid-January.
Last year, the scam cost Ohio a total of $6.6 million in fraudulent overpayments related to the traditional unemployment program.
“So once again the bad guys are proving that your misery, that’s their opportunity,” said Bob Coppedge in a YouTube video.
Hard times bring out the worst in the worst kind of people. The current unemployment crisis is a case in point.
“The bad guys, they smell blood,” Coppedge said.
Cybersecurity is one of Coppedge’s specialties.
“It’s kind of like the Nigerian prince. You can send millions of emails for literally the cost of a cup of coffee and all it takes is one or two people to, pardon my French, fall for it, and then it made money,” he explained.
He is the president and CEO of Simplex-IT, a manage service provider in Stow. Coppedge took to YouTube to warn others of a new scam — one he too was targeted for as a business owner.
“Bad guys have your name, your employer information, and Social Security numbers and we’re not sure where they got this info yet, but they’re using this information to submit bogus unemployment claims,” he explained in one of his videos.
The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services is actively investigating the situation, calling on the president for a national response, and is working with the U.S. Attorney’s Office to arrest those responsible. The state considers the system a victim just as much as the people who are victims of identity theft.
Right now, the main target is the traditional unemployment program, but the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program was hit first and has cost the state more than $222.7 million in fraudulent overpayments.
“The simple mantra of ‘they should fix that’ doesn’t really consider the complexity here,” said Coppedge in a YouTube video.
So far, Coppedge has gotten four letters from ODJFS asking him to fill out paperwork for employees filing for unemployment. The thing is — these employees are very much working. Right away, he knew the letter was legit, but the filing process was not.
“Except for the bad guys are getting the money and they started this whole thing, this is absolutely legit,” he said.
Hundreds of thousands of people have reported identity theft in the last few months, but if the forms are not flagged as fraud – victims could be unintentionally lining a scammer’s pocket — and it gets worse.
“You’re going to be taxed for the money that the bad guys got,” Coppedge said.
Coppedge offers this advice:
“The first and foremost thing is relax because what the bad guys want is a knee-jerk reaction,” he said. “Don’t limit your vigilance to this one scam, because next month it’s going to be a different scam.”
If you think you may be a victim of identity theft in this latest unemployment scam, ODJFS wants to know.
Click here for more information on how to report the fraud and protect yourself.