A new report finds billions of dollars in unemployment related fraud is taking place as the economy and unemployment levels continue to recover. New Jersey has the No. 7 highest level of unemployment currently at 7.5%.
The FBI began warning unemployment fraud was rampant in 2020; in May of this year the Secret Service announced it had recovered $2 billion worth of fraud; and California alone paid at least $11 billion to scammers.
Scammers are both applying for unemployment benefits under someone else’s name and scamming victims after they received money from the government in multiple sophisticated ways.
Here are 5 common unemployment scams being reported:
- Identity Theft: Scammers are applying for unemployment benefits pretending to be someone else. They do this by finding out personal information such as full name, address or social security number and then impersonate you. Victims are typically unaware until they get denied when applying for their own unemployment benefits or realize they were being taxed on the benefits they never received.
How to Avoid: Do not give personal information to anyone that you meet online. Avoid adding personal information to social media accounts or anywhere public online.
- Romance Scams: During COVID-19, many victims said they were tricked into sending their unemployment money to a scammer they thought was the love of their life. A record $304 million was stolen from victims seeking love in 2020. Scammers create fake profiles on dating apps and social media sites and make lonely victims feel loved. Once the victim trusts them, they begin asking for money. They also request personal information along the way and apply for unemployment benefits under their name.
How to Avoid: Do not send money to anyone you meet online. If the person will not meet or do a video chat, they are likely a scammer.
- Spoofing: Scammers create VOIP phone numbers that makes it seem like they are calling from their local trusted unemployment office. They are asking victims to pay a small fee and verify personal information to continue receiving their unemployment benefits. The scammers pockets that fee and then uses the personal information to drain their bank account.
How to Avoid: If a company calls you asking for information, hang up and call them back yourself to ensure you are speaking with the actual company.
- Investment Fraud: Scammers are targeting people with unemployment benefits with fake investment opportunities knowing they are desperate for money. They post on social media promising enormous returns with little risk. They email with phishing links that will steal personal information when clicked. If you do invest, you will never see your money again. They are asking for your investment in the form of Bitcoin, gift cards or wire transfers which are harder to trace, and banks cannot return.
How to Avoid: Do not give any money or information to someone seeking an investment until you have thoroughly vetted the people and the organization.
- Sextortion: Scammers are sexually extorting people for their unemployment money. They create fake profiles on dating apps using explicit images girls from OnlyFans or Snapchat. The “girl” connects with a man and asks to exchange explicit photos. Once the scammer has the photo, they blackmail the victim saying if they do not send money, the photo will be sent to their friends, family, coworkers and posted on the Internet.
How to Avoid: Do not send explicit photos to anyone you do not know.
If you believe you are the victim of an unemployment scam, report it to the newly created website from the Department of Labor.