UNEMPLOYMENT FRAUD BUSINESSES BEWARE
Unemployment fraud, businesses beware. Fraudsters are taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic and filing bogus unemployment claims. I am not just referring to those folks that are unemployed and file a claim knowing they are not entitled to unemployment. I am talking about identity theft; people filing claims under someone else’s name and social security number. It happened to me.
I FILED FOR UNEMPLOYMENT?
Last month, I opened an envelope addressed to our firm from the Department of Jobs and Family Services. It was a “Request to Employer for Separation Information” form. When an employee is fired or leaves their job and files for unemployment, the employer must complete this form to confirm that the statements the ex-employee made on their application are true.
In this case however, the unemployment applicant was ME. My name and last four digits of my social security number were on the form. It took me a few beats to let that sink in; and then read and reread the form to make sure that I wasn’t wrong. I run HR for our firm, so maybe this was a form for someone else, addressed to me, requesting confirmation of information. But no, it was MY application, MY information.
GET ANGRY, GET EDUCATED, GET THIS RESOLVED
OK, so first I got angry. Couldn’t help it; that was my first response. How could this have happened? Who did this? Why? Although, they were important questions, they were useless in putting together a plan to fix the situation. So, I shook it off, started my internet research and got educated.
It turns out that although tragic, unemployment fraud spikes during extreme economic events when a high number of people are more likely to file for unemployment. Economic downturns, recessions, …the COVID-19 pandemic. So, there was quite a bit of information available on the topic.
There was also quite a bit of information on the steps I needed to take, not only to stop this bogus application, but to stop the “identity theft bleeding”. It was an overwhelming task that required layers of action.
But first, I want to make a couple of points clear. Although this story is personal, I am not the only one wronged. My company is also a victim.
STANDARD RUN OF THE MILL UNEMPLOYMENT FRAUD
Unemployment fraud, businesses beware. In the best of times, a company is vulnerable to unemployment fraud. I’m sure you have heard of people being fired from a job or quitting and then filing for unemployment. Just because you have become separated from your company does not mean that you are eligible to collect. There is a laundry list of reasons why an individual could be turned down for unemployment insurance (UI). Being fired “for cause” or choosing to leave a job are usually among them.
But people try. And in some cases, if the employer is slow to respond or neglects to turn in their “Request to Employer for Separation Information” form, an application could be inadvertently approved even though the applicant is ineligible. Or an eligible applicant lies about their income to win a higher unemployment award. Both are examples of unemployment fraud. And in both cases, since a claim was approved and unemployment insurance funds were disbursed, the company’s UI tax rate goes up.
STEPS TO TAKE – EMPLOYER
NOTIFY THE UNEMPLOYMENT PROCESSING OFFICE: The obvious first step is to return the “Request to Employer for Separation Information” form to the processing office with a letter explaining the fraud. I included docs to prove that I was who I said I was, and payroll info confirming my continued employment. I also wrote “FRAUD” in red ink across the form. May have been overkill, but I wanted to make sure the point was clear from the first glance.
CALL THE UNEMPLOYMENT OFFICE FRAUD LINE: This may be easier said than done during times of high call volume. I called the regular customer service number listed on the form. After 57 minutes on hold, the customer service representative informed me that I needed to call the fraud line instead. However, after 1 hour and 43 minutes on hold I gave up and resorted to email instead.
NOTIFY THE UNEMPLOYMENT FRAUD DEPARTMENT: I copied the package that I sent to the processing office and emailed a copy to the unemployment fraud department. The unemployment office also had an online fraud submission link available on their website. I completed that as well.
STEPS TO TAKE – EMPLOYEE
FILE A POLICE REPORT: I filed a police report to report that crime. Since the theft was technically under $3000, I was able to file the report online with the local police office and download a copy of the report.
FREEZE YOUR CREDIT: You must contact all 3 credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) individually to “freeze” your credit. I blocked my credit so that anyone trying to open a line of credit with my information wouldn’t be able to do so. The process was straight forward and provided me with login credentials so that if I wanted to open a new line of credit, I would have the ability to “unfreeze” each temporarily during the process.
FILE A FRAUD ALERT WITH EACH CREDIT BUREAU: This does not happen automatically when you freeze your credit. To give the agencies a heads up that your identity was stolen you need to file a formal fraud form and provide a copy of a police report. This process helps provide you with a baseline in the event you ever need to dispute an entry on your credit.
FILE A FRAUD REPORT WITH THE FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION (FTC): As with the fraud report with the credit bureaus. You will want to file with the FTC so that, if necessary, you can use the Identity Theft Report to prove to creditors and businesses proof that you’re the victim of identity theft.
CHANGE YOUR PASSCODES: For another layer of protection against the identity thieves.
NOT A TOTAL FIX
Although these steps can help, they are not a total fix. The credit freezes will help reduce your exposure and help prevent use of your stolen identity. But if someone steals your credit card number, they can still use your credit account to make unauthorized purchases. Also, if someone steals your Social Security number, a credit freeze won’t prevent them from filing fraudulent tax returns and health insurance claims in your name.
But by taking these important steps and staying vigilant in all areas of your financial life, you can help try to stay ahead of the thieves.