Identity thieves stealing unemployment benefits in widespread crime

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BERNE, N.Y. (NEWS10) — If you received a letter from the Labor Department about unemployment benefits you never filed for, you may be a victim of identity theft.

As NEWS10’s Anya Tucker found this widespread crime is now affecting people in all 50 states and it could impact more than just your status with IRS.

For Michele Secor of Berne, New York it all started when she received 2 letters in the mail.

One from the Department of Job and Family Services in Ohio and the other from the Social Security Administration. The paperwork read that she had received $960 in unemployment benefits in Ohio.

“Ok, wait a minute this has got to be a scam. Never lived there and never collected unemployment in my life,” she said.

The letters were legit, but…..

“What they were doing was a scam,” she added.

Michele called the Albany County Sheriff’s Office and got the bad news that her identity had likely been stolen. Unsuspecting victims like Michele may not realize what’s happened until they receive a letter.

“I know so many people who are calling us saying,  ‘I never filed for this. What is this?’ Literally dozens and dozens of people,” Said Sheriff Apple.

Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple says they include several of his own employees. 

The crime has spread to all 50 states and handling a flood of calls from people saying they never filed for the benefits.

Law enforcement saying the fraud is likely tied to crime rings overseas, taking advantage of two things:

  1. Recent data breaches upon institutions such as banks, insurance companies or employers.
  2. And the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program.

Better known as the PUA, it allows for people who didn’t typically qualify for unemployment benefits, like those who are self-employed, to file.

And prior to tighter restrictions being put in place on the PUA, it may have widened the door to scammers.

Law enforcement officials told NEWS10 that the thieves take advantage of what they said is “default” in the system in order to collect the money from the unemployment claims.

NYS Department of Labor told NEWS10 they did not wish to comment on any specific cases.

Anya: “What’s your advice?”

Apple: “My advice to everybody is if you see this in the mail just do not throw it away. Contact Department of Labor, local police. Get it on file. Chances there are other things brewing out there, which could be a fictitious bank account, credit card, whatever the case may be.”

As for Michele who is disabled and also looks after her mother, there could be another setback. “I could potentially lose my social security unless I can prove that I didn’t receive the unemployment. And it was hard enough for me to get it in the first place.”

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