How to protect yourself if you’ve been a victim of unemployment fraud

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OLYMPIA - The unprecedented number of unemployment claims in Washington state has also caused a drastic rise in unemployment fraud thanks to "bad actors" who are using stolen personal information to apply for - and often receive - unemployment benefits.

The state has paid more than $1.6 million in fraudulent unemployment benefits since February when the spike in jobless claims began, according to the state Employment Security Division.

"While this is an immediate and pressing concern for our department, it is not just happening here in Washington," ESD Commissioner Suzan LeVine said. "Imposter fraud is a sweeping issue affecting unemployment systems in states across the country. We are working with law enforcement, other states, financial institutions and the U.S. Department of Labor to detect and prevent fraud."

The state says it has taken the following steps to combat the imposters:

  • Holding payments for 1-2 days to validate all claims as authentic.
  • Hiring more fraud investigators and staff to answer questions on the fraud hotline.
  • Making changes to our system that will require some customers to verify or provide certain information. These changes impact both new and existing customers, and in some cases could delay payment while we collect or verify this additional information. We apologize for any confusion or delay this is causing and are working quickly to address any issues for legitimate claims.

Meanwhile, the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office offered advice for people who have fallen victim to the fraudulent unemployment claims. Here's what they said you should do if you find out someone has made a fraudulent unemployment claim in your name:

Step 1 – Contact Your Employer 

Step 2 – Contact ESD

It is important to contact ESD to notify them of the issue and report the fraud.  There are two main ways to do this:

  • Report online.
  • Call 1-800-246-9763

ESD recommends using the online reporting method because the phone lines are still overwhelmed with calls.

You will need to have the following information when you contact ESD:

  • Your full name
  • Last 4 numbers of your Social Security number
  • Your address, date of birth, and phone number
  • Information on how you learned a claim was filed on your behalf

Step 3(a) – File a Police Report

It is very important to file an online or non-emergency report with the law enforcement agency where you live.

  • Sometimes what starts as an apparently “minor” identity theft can turn into something bigger later.  In that situation, having a record that you reported it early can be very helpful in trying to mitigate and undo any financial damage.
  • In addition, some government services and accommodations are available to victims of identity theft that are not available to the general public, such as getting certain public records sealed. However, many of those sorts of steps require that the matter has been reported to law enforcement and it’s usually easier to have done this as soon as the matter occurs.

Start keeping a file folder or journal with the information from this incident, including any case numbers.

Step 3(b) – Report the Matter to the FTC

Along with filing a police report, you're also encouraged encouraged to report the matter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

  • Having an FTC report filed is a helpful (and sometimes necessary) step in accessing some of the government and private sector services and accommodations that are available to victims of identity theft.
  • In addition, the FTC is the main clearinghouse for national data and statistics on identity theft, so important questions effecting the deployment of local, state, and federal resources are answered by referencing their data.  The FTC’s numbers are – in large part – based on victims self-reporting.  As a result, having instances of identity theft reported to the FTC is an important part of making sure the data is as accurate as possible.

The report with the FTC can be filed online.

Step Four – Follow Up with the Three Major Credit Bureaus

Obtain your free credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion at www.annualcreditreport.com or call 1-877-322-8228

Report to the credit bureaus that the fraudulent claim was made using your identity and provide them with the case number from your police and/or FTC report. You can have a fraud alert put on your identity or freeze your credit.

A fraud alert is free and will make it harder for someone to open new accounts in your name. To place a fraud alert, contact one of the three credit bureaus. That company must tell the other two.

Ø   Experian  1-888-397-3742

Ø   TransUnion  1-800-680-7289

Ø   Equifax  1-888-766-0008

Check your credit activity at least once a year. As a victim of identity-theft you have the right to check it monthly if you choose.

Credit Freeze – If you do not have upcoming large purchases, such as a home, you may want to freeze your credit for more protection. It is free and you can do it yourself. More information about this option can be found here.

*Hang on to your notes, copies of emails, etc. as you go along. This is a paper trail that you can reference in the future if identity issues or inaccuracies on your credit history come up.*

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