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In the past few weeks, the number of fraudulent unemployment claims in the district has skyrocketed. It turns out that this trend is not just happening here.
With the advent of the new unemployment system, the number of false claims and outgoing checks to our residents have exploded even though that may not be the source of the issue.
The problem has become so pervasive that the Executive Branch has implemented an identification confirmation process recently. The Administration sent legislators the following e-mail:
“As part of our ongoing efforts to combat UC fraud, ID.me identity verification has been implemented in the new UC system. All claimants submitting a NEW initial claim will now be required to verify their identity through ID.me.
The identity verification step through ID.me has been integrated into the process to file an initial application and takes just a few minutes. As individuals log into benefits.uc.pa.gov for the first time, they will be walked through the steps of verifying their identity through ID.me.
The new ID.me verification process was added to the system this evening. The unannounced implementation was necessary to ward off a rush of any last minute fraud attempts by well informed and organized fraudsters and fraud rings.”
A media advisory was sent the next day and provided useful guidance on what to do if you receive an unexpected check.
In the past few weeks, we received numerous calls from individuals and employers that claims were filed and checks mailed to those who had not filed.
For starters, if you receive a check that you should not have, please follow the steps above and please do not cash the check. It will only increase the complexity of fixing the problem. The scams we are seeing are far bigger than we have seen previously. It is possible that the unemployment system was merely one target in a far greater level of fraud nationwide.
To protect yourself and your family, I would encourage that you take the following steps.
- Do not respond to e-mail alert in the e-mail itself. E-mail scams include things like phishing in which the fraudster will attempt to get you to respond to a “problem” on your account. Your response helps the fraudster confirm that you are a legitimate target. If you suspect fraud, it is best to report the e-mail (scam alert or the like) and do not respond to the e-mail. If you are concerned contact the organization with whom you do business directly to determine if your account has been compromised.
- Report the suspected fraud to the Attorney General’s hotline. This reporting helps provide information on new types of fraud as well as where your data my have come from. For instance, one constituent reported receiving a check in the mail to an address which was not entirely correct. That information is useful to law enforcement in tracking down where the compromising data may have come from.
- Be careful on social media of divulging your personal information. I would recommend that you only accept friends that you personally know. In the past few months, we have been shocked by the number of fake “likes” on social media. The problem is that you may get a friend request from someone who has “liked” a page of someone you know and you then may be inclined to “accept” the friend request. Be careful and use your judgment.
- Avoid publishing your schedule on social media. Fraudsters may target your home while your away.
- If you have young children, be careful that you protect their information as well. There are numerous cases in the district where fraudsters hack the social security number of children and begin filing with the child’s social security number.
- And the list goes on!!!!
To help defend yourself, I would encourage you to be vigilant but also take some defensive measures. For instance, if you have not done so already, consider creating an account on social security at https://www.ssa.gov. Creating an account takes time but doing so helps ensure that your earnings record and social security are protected. You must be at least 18 years old to create the account.
Additionally since theft of tax refunds is also common, you should consider filing IRS Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit to protect you from someone filing a tax return on your behalf and stealing your tax refunds AND tax payments. The form tax minutes to complete and annually you will receive a six digit code to file with your tax return and social security number which prevents someone from intercepting your tax funds.
The fraudsters are sophisticated. They have been mining your data for years and are in a position to use that data against you to steal your identity. As such, it is important that you safeguard your personal information and monitor your credit report periodically for unusual activity. It is recommended that you change your passwords often, review your account balances periodically, reconcile your bank statements immediately upon receiving them and sign up for credit card fraud alerts.
Remember when in doubt do not respond to requests for personal data without verifying who you are speaking with.
Identity theft is truly a case where an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Finally if you have any questions or concerns my office is always ready to help you.
Frank Ryan, CPA, Col USMCR (Ret) represents the 101st District in the PA House of Representatives. He is a retired Marine Reserve Colonel, a CPA and specializes in corporate restructuring. He serves as Vice Chair of the PSERS Pension Board and its Chair of the Audit/Compliance Committee. He can be reached at [email protected].