Good Saturday to you. Please consider this an update to Debbie Burke’s excellent post, True Crime Thursday – COVID 19 Scams, of just a few weeks ago, as well as an addendum to the wonderful and still pertinent 2012 post by TKZ alum Kathleen Pickering concerning identity theft.
I groaned when I received my post office mail this past Monday. I knew immediately that someone was pretending to be me.
The moan-inducing missive was from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (“DJFS”). That agency in Ohio is tasked with administering unemployment benefits, among other things. There have been daily reports of individuals in Ohio having bogus unemployment benefit claims filed in their name using their personal information. The first hint that something is amiss is usually the receipt of a letter from DJFS, noting that they have filed a claim and that an account has been set up for them. That was precisely the type of letter I received, in spite of not having filed a claim.
The fraud which is occurring is an example of never letting a crisis go to waste. The COVID-19 situation resulted in a great deal of unemployment concentrated in certain industries. Many states — Ohio, for one — wanted to get unemployment benefits to the unfortunate workers in those industries as quickly as possible. This resulted in some instances of “pay now, verify later.” Someone figured out a way to take advantage of this.
The scam is fairly easy to do once the scoundrel is in possession of another person’s name, address, and social security number. The despicable cad first sets up a bank account (usually with an online bank) utilizing a newly created email address and a burner phone for contact purposes. They then use the ill-gotten information to file for unemployment benefits and directing that the benefits be deposited to the online bank account. The victim, moi or vous, is usually unaware of this until the agency acknowledges the claim via letter to the victim’s snail mail address. At least two or three weeks of benefits have often been paid by then. Should the person who is the target of the scam ignore the letter from the DJFS the fraudulent payments can go on for far longer.
It often isn’t immediately a problem for the victim. Whoever is doing this isn’t taking money out of the victim’s legitimate bank account. The problem with the false claim occurs later, as in the following year, when the victim receives a Form 1099 from DJFS noting that “their” unemployment benefit payment (which is taxable) has been reported to the IRS. There are of course other problems having to do with someone having your name and SSN. These would include the ability of someone else to open accounts and apply for credit in your name.
There is a fix for this and it is free. You just need to do three things and do them immediately.
The first is that you must immediately go to the website of the state agency that sent you the notification letter. You should find a link there that will take you to a page where you can report that you have had a fraudulent claim for unemployment benefits filed in your name.
The second is to file an NCDF Disaster Complaint Form with the Department of Justice. This is not as intimidating as it sounds. It is actually quite easy to do and can be done online by following the link above which will give you some additional information and take you to another page where you fill out a form dealing with your complaint.
The third action actually has two components that concern protecting your credit. Part A is checking your credit report at http://annualcreditreport.com, which you should be doing anyway. Part B is placing a free, one-year fraud alert on your credit reports by contacting any one of the three nationwide credit reporting companies online or through their toll-free numbers. The bureau you contact must tell the other two. They are Equifax: 800-525-6285, Experian: 888-397-3742, or Trans Union: 800-680-7289. The companies will let you know if someone applies for a loan or credit in your name. Please don’t tell them that I sent you.
I hope that you never need any of this. If my experience provides you with the germ of an idea for your next novel, however, that is all to the good. You can possibly ascertain how the personal information of the victims is being acquired. I believe that the databases of state departments of taxation are being cracked. I base this in part on the timing of my experience, which occurred a few weeks after I filed my state return. It could be for any number of reasons, however.
Photo by sincerely-media on unsplash.com
My question for you today is whether any of you have had this experience within the past several months. that being a fraudulent unemployment claim being filed in your name. I hopefully am a loner, at least among my friends here. Thank you.