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FBI El Paso: Surge in fraudulent Unemployment Insurance Claims filed using stolen identities

According to officials with the FBI office in El Paso, the area has seen an increase in fraudulent unemployment insurance claims complaints related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic involving the use of stolen personally identifiable information (PII).

“Nationwide, individuals have been victimized by criminal actors impersonating the victims and using the victims’ stolen identities to submit fraudulent unemployment insurance claims online,” the FBI shared Wednesday.

According to officials, the criminals obtain the stolen identity using a variety of techniques, including the online purchase of stolen PII, previous data breaches, computer intrusions, cold-calling victims while using impersonation scams, email phishing schemes, physical theft of data from individuals or third parties, and from public websites and social media accounts, among other methods.

Many victims of identity theft related to unemployment insurance claims do not know they have been targeted until they try to file a claim for unemployment insurance benefits, receive a notification from the state unemployment insurance agency, receive an IRS Form 1099-G showing the benefits collected from unemployment insurance, or get notified by their employer that a claim has been filed while the victim is still employed.

The FBI advises the public to be on the lookout for the following suspicious activities:

  • Receiving communications regarding unemployment insurance forms or payments when you have not applied for benefits.
  • Receiving a state taxable income form 1099-G reflecting unemployment benefits you have not applied for.
  • Receiving a notice that your claim was rejected because there is a claim already in your name.
  • Unauthorized transactions on your bank or credit card statements related to unemployment benefits.
  • Any fees involved in filing or qualifying for unemployment insurance.
  • Unsolicited inquires related to unemployment benefits.
  • Fictitious websites and social media pages mimicking those of government agencies.

Tips on how to protect yourself:

  • ▪ Be wary of telephone calls and text messages, letters, websites, or emails that require you to provide your personal information or other sensitive information, especially birth dates and Social Security numbers. Be cautious with attachments and embedded links within emails and texts, especially from an unknown sender.
  • ▪ Monitor your bank accounts on a regular basis and request your credit report (annualcreditreport.com) at least once a year to look for any fraudulent activity. If you believe you are a victim, review your credit report more frequently.
  • Immediately report unauthorized transactions to your financial institution or credit card provider.
  • Follow good computer hygiene and cybersecurity practices.
  • Research unemployment benefit websites, including state unemployment insurance agencies, before providing your PII. There are many fake websites mimicking legitimate websites.

For those that may be victim of a fraudulent unemployment insurance claim, the FBI recommends taking the following actions:

  • Immediately contact the three major credit bureaus to place a fraud alert on your credit records.
  • Notify the Internal Revenue Service by filing an Identity Theft Affidavit (IRS Form 14039) through irs.gov or identitytheft.gov.
  • Immediately call the Texas Workforce Commission at 1-800-252-3642 and request a corrected Form 1099-G.
  • Notify your employer of the fraudulent claim as they will also need to file documentation.

“If you believe you have been a victim of identity theft related to fraudulent unemployment insurance claims, report the fraud to law enforcement, your state unemployment insurance agency, the IRS, credit bureaus, and your employer’s human resources department,” Bureau officials added.

The FBI encourages victims to report fraudulent or any suspicious activities to the Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov or with the National Center for Disaster Fraud at 1-866-720-5721.

You may consult identitytheft.gov for help in reporting and recovering from identity theft.