Losing Your Identity

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. 

 

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About Joe Hartlaub

Joe Hartlaub is an attorney, author, actor and book and music reviewer. Joe is a Fox News contributor on book publishing industry and publishing law and has participated on several panels dealing with book, film, and music business law. He lives with his family in Westerville, Ohio.

20 thoughts on “Losing Your Identity

  1. Good morning, Joe. Great post. Very interesting.

    I hope you get things settled quickly with the various agencies, and can move on to using the acquired knowledge in your next novel.

    There is some additional information that may be helpful. I retired at the end of 2020, as a sole proprietor, an employer, paying into the unemployment insurance fund through the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services (DJFS) for six employees. When I retired I was hit with a barrage of letters from DJFS because of four employees who filed for unemployment. I was required to verify the employees’ claim – length of employment, wages earned, and reason for the job ending (quitting vs. legitimate reason for unemployment – in my case, retirement, no work available for employees).

    For a scam such as you describe, it would seem that there would have to be a fraudulent employer to verify the fraudulent claim. But, the fraudulent employer would not have paid into the unemployment fund, and would not have a record with the DJFS. However, if the fraud involved a disgruntled employee of a legitimate business, who could interrupt the mail flow within the company, snag the mail from the DJFS, and fill out the forms necessary to collaborate the fraudulent claim, the fraud could work. And, I suppose that larger businesses would have an electronic link to the DJFS, that could be hacked. Or, as you mentioned, someone could hack the DJFS system to “verify” the fraudulent claim.

    It makes me wonder why we use electronic connections for such critical and tempting services.

    I have not been the victim of any fraudulent unemployment claims. As a self-employed taxpayer, I am not eligible for unemployment.

    Thanks for another look into the ever-creative criminal mind. Have a great weekend.

    • Good morning, Steve. Thanks for your kind words and for sharing your own, fortunately fraud-free, experiences. 

      I am also self-employed and have been for decades. My understanding as to why I was a “mark,” if you will, is that the majority of the fraudulent cases fall into two categories.

      The first involves workers who are employed by a company and who are still working and thus not eligible for benefits. Those workers are often unaware that a claim has been filed in their name until their employer, after being notified about the claim by the state, contacts them and says, “Hey, why did you file for unemployment benefits?”

      The second involves folks in my situation who are either retired or self-employed. The crooks filing the fraudulent claim will allege that the claimant is working for a large employer such as a restaurant or retail chain adversely affected by the shutdowns.

      The “pay now, verify later” situation that I mentioned above enters the picture in both cases. The claims seem credible so they are granted initially with the verification process taking a few weeks. If and when the fraud is discovered a few thousand in benefits has been paid out on each claim. Some folks also get a letter and shrug it off as a mistake, since they aren’t receiving any benefits.

      Thanks again, Steve. May your weekend be enjoyable and continue to be fraud-free going forward!

  2. Wow, Joe. What an awful experience. I’m so sorry you’ve had to deal with this bull. There are those in this world who spend far too much time trying to game the system. As an example, I just received my statement from my website security. This month alone they’ve blocked over 4,000 attacks, and it’s only the 20th. If these scammers/hackers applied even an ounce of that energy into something positive, they’d probably do well. There’s a special place in hell for scum.

    • Thank you, Sue. I in turn am really sorry that you are having attacks on your website. I did kind of laugh about your statement about the hackers applying themselves to something legitimate because this morning I told the same thing to a guy who was doing his best to inform me that I had won the Jamaican lottery. I usually keep them on the phone by insisting that I will only accept it if Ziggy Marley delivers the check but this morning I tried to be nice.

      You are right about the scammers in Hell. Dante envisioned the fraudsters as being in the eighth of the nine circles, with the ninth and worst being reserved for the treacherous. They could go there, too. Thanks again and enjoy the weekend!

      • The closest thing like that happened years ago when my husband went to a large city for an assignment of work and someone got hold of his credit card number. He contacted the credit card company and they took care of it. 🙂 — Suzanne

        • I’ve had that occur on a number of occasions, Suzanne, although the issuing credit card company has contacted me because of a suspicious attempted purchase. One was at an Abercrombie and Fitch store in London, England. Another was generated when, five minutes after buying gas at a station near my home, someone at another station sixty miles away tried to buy 100 gallons of diesel fuel. No.

          My favorite story involves a crew of guys who attempted to use my nephew’s card to finance a weekend stay at a high-end hotel a few hundred miles from where he lives. Two mistakes: 1) he is a police officer and 2) they posted the party on Facebook. They couldn’t understand how they got arrested so quickly.

  3. Good morning, Joe,

    Wow. What a royal pain to have to deal with this, but thank you for all the info. It’s not surprising but definitely dismaying the lengths fraudsters will go to steal money, especially now, during our global pandemic. As you noted so well, “never let a crisis go to waste.” Your post prompted me to check the Oregon Employment Department online for their information concerning unemployment fraud, which is on the same webpage as ID theft (makes sense to me). They provide info on reporting both for employers and for the general public.

    I spent a lot of time the last few years of my library career helping unemployed patrons look for work online* (navigating a 58 question form from a big box retailer must be seen to be believed) as well update their job search status. Here in Oregon, at least pre-Covid pandemic, you were required to show each week what employment you had sought that week, so you’d think that would make tripping up fraud faster, but right now, things are likely different, so good to know. Actually, it’s good to know for after this pandemic ends as well. Certainly fraud isn’t going away anytime soon.

    *One of the most inspiring people I helped look for work was an elderly Iranian gentleman, who had become unemployed in his 80s and who took several of my beginner computer courses so that he could land a job. He was one of a number of Iranians I’d met who’d immigrated after the fall of Shah. The man was very persistent, and had a great sense of humor about life. He wanted to work, and worked hard to be able to work.

    Thanks so much for the very helpful information. Have a wonderful weekend!

    • Good morning, Dale. Thanks for sharing your experiences and knowledge. I particularly enjoyed your story about the library patron you assisted with finding work. Thank you for all your work on his behalf and others.

  4. Thanks for sharing, Joe, and also for the shout-out.

    The fraud alert sites I follow all report an exponential uptick in scams. Crooks definitely aren’t wasting this crisis.

    “I believe that the databases of state departments of taxation are being cracked.”

    The list of databases NOT under attack is probably much shorter than the ones that ARE at risk.

    Scamicide.com, written by attorney Steven Weisman, offers daily updates of emerging frauds. B/c of spoofing, he advises never to return calls from phone numbers that are unfamiliar. Also don’t click on links in unfamiliar emails. Instead, go directly to the government site and contact them using the official phone number or email on that site.

    Sue, that special place in hell will soon be bursting at the seams with 21st century scammers.

    • You’re welcome, Debbie. And thank you so much for sharing scamicide.com, which will undoubtedly be a time bandit for my weekend. Scary, is it not?

  5. How much free time (and extra money) would we have if we didn’t have to constantly worry about scum-bags trying to take advantage of others! ARGH!!!!!!

    • Thank you, BK. Agreed. The computer and the internet were supposed to be labor-saving devices, not labor-generating. It doesn’t seem to be working out that way.

  6. According to the local news, the biggest scam right now is people taking the info off vaccination cards, stupidly posted on Facebook, to steal identities. That and the parasites are already circling the tornado damage victims here to overcharge or steal the repair money. May they rot in Heck.

    • Thank you Marilynn. I came across something about just yesterday about folks posting their card on Facebook and being sorry for it. I will NEVER understand why folks find it necessary to tell the world about the minutiae of their lives. Facebook…the stalker’s and the burglar’s best friend…

  7. Thanks for this valuable information, Joe. So sorry to hear you were the object of the scammers. There seems to be no end to ways to cheat somebody!

    Several years ago my husband and I contacted Equifax, Experion, and Trans Union and had our credit information locked. They will not report our information to any bank or other institution unless we contact them and have our account unlocked.

    Thanks for another great post. Stay safe out there.

    • You’re welcome, Kay, and thanks for that great suggestion about locking and unlocking your credit records. It’s a little extra work but certainly worth it!

  8. Hi,

    Another thing you can do with the three credit agencies is go to each of their sites and look up ‘freeze credit’. Follow the steps there to put a ‘freeze’ on your credit which stops the credit bureaus from responding to any inquiries for your credit information – score, etc. It’s free to do and only takes a few moments. Should you need to obtain a loan later, apply, go back to the credit bureaus and have them lift it for a week (or whatever time you feel you need). Additionally, every four months, go to one of the agencies and ask for your credit report. They provide one a year for free. By alternating the three, you can get free reports each time. I’ve done both and haven’t had any unknown loans or accounts opened in my name since I started it five years ago.

    Steve

    • Thank you, Steve. You and Kay almost simultaneously made the same suggestion, and it’s a good one!

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