Since the outbreak of COVID-19, millions of Americans have lost their jobs and been forced to apply for unemployment. The federal and state governments have extended unemployment benefits during the pandemic to provide greater support to help residents pay their bills and stay in their homes.
Unfortunately, the fraudsters have taken note. Many Kansans are receiving notices that they have filed for unemployment benefits – even though they have not. What is happening is that an identity thief has gotten access to the person’s personal identifying information and used it to file fraudulent claims for benefits. In some cases, this false filing generates a notice – and a Kansan receives a notification letter from the Kansas Department of Labor, perhaps addressed to them or perhaps addressed to some other person who does not live there. Some Kansans have reported receiving multiple notices addressed to different people but all mailed to the same address. This problem is not limited to Kansas – nationwide, the number of fraudulent claims being filed is in the millions.
It is not always clear exactly how the scam works, and the likelihood is that there are multiple fraudsters operating at the same time and each may be a bit different. But there is one common denominator: Somebody’s personal information is being misused. So if you receive notification or otherwise become aware that this is happening in your name or using your address, you should take steps to protect yourself from identity theft.
What should you do? The first step is to notify the Kansas Department of Labor, which administers the unemployment compensation program in Kansas, that you suspect that a fraudulent claim has been filed in your name. An online form at www.reportfraud.ks.gov has been established by the Department of Labor specifically to allow you to report this fraud and initiate an investigation. The site will also guide you as to what steps to take to determine the extent of the fraud and begin the recovery process. This includes:
· Place a fraud alert on your credit reports. You also may wish to take the more-significant step of placing a freeze on your credit report, which now is free under legislation enacted a few years ago.
· Review your credit reports and see if there are any unauthorized accounts listed.
· Continue to monitor your credit reports for suspicious activity.
· Contact your bank and credit card companies to let them know your personal information may have been compromised.
· Contact the IRS and Social Security Administration to verify your earnings and work history.
· Download the free identity theft repair document from the Federal Trade Commission for helpful information for navigating how to recover from identity theft.
Of course, the best outcome is to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft in the first place. So here are reminders to help keep your personal information from falling into the hands of identity thieves:
DO NOT give out information over the phone to an unknown person. There are a lot of scams with people pretending to be from the FBI, Kansas Bureau of Investigation, Social Security Administration and others, but their common goal is to trick you into giving them your social security number, bank account number, or other personal identifying information.
DO NOT click on emails or open files from unknown persons.
BE CAREFUL not to share too much information over social media.
If you think you may be the victim of identity theft, you may also file a complaint with our Consumer Protection Division. More information on how to protect yourself from identity theft is available on our consumer protection website at www.InYourCornerKansas.org or by calling our consumer protection hotline at (800) 432-2310.