Westchester County District Attorney Anthony A. Scarpino, Jr. is warning all county residents that since the coronavirus pandemic began and unemployment has surged, our Office has become aware of a number of scams related to unemployment benefits. Anyone who has been working or has been laid off can become a victim of unscrupulous bad actors who seize identity, file a claim for unemployment benefits using personal identifying information, and obtain money fraudulently from the New York State Department of Labor.
The District Attorney’s specialized Identity Theft Unit has received reports of fraudulent unemployment benefit claims. Potential victims typically learn of the fraud when either they either receive a letter from the New York State Department of Labor relating to an application for benefits they never sought, and/or their employer receives a similar notification from the DOL.
The criminals may have purchased identifying information such as Social Security numbers on the dark web obtained by hacking or a resident may have unwittingly given it to them. Fraudsters get personal information through a number of underhanded methods including email or text phishing or by phone–disguising themselves as legitimate banks or organizations asking to confirm personal information.
DA Scarpino reminds residents, “Be vigilant. Make sure any questions you receive by electronic means or by telephone are from trusted sources. Keep your personal information personal. Losing your benefits to a thief is the last thing we want to happen. As always, stay safe.”
Individuals who believe that someone is fraudulently using their identity to apply for unemployment benefits should file a complaint through the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at www.ic3.gov or should report it to their local police department (where they reside). If you think an identity thief is using your Social Security number, call the Social Security Fraud Hotline (800) 269-0271.
Some tips to protect against unemployment scams and identity theft:
- give out personal or financial information over the phone.
- provide or validate your personal information from contacts not initiated by you.
- do not carry your Social Security card in your wallet.
- check credit reports, banking information, medical information that may have details that need to be removed or secured.
- review regularly all financial statements for unusual activity. Immediately contact the company if an item looks suspicious.
- shred or destroy credit card statements, bills, insurance papers or bank statements before throwing them out.
- release your Social Security number only when required by law.
- ask for a phone number to call back a person asking for information. A legitimate company will give it to you.
- Protect and update passwords to your online accounts regularly.
- When creating passwords and PINS, do not use anything that could be discovered easily by thieves, like obvious names of places, children, pets, birthday or anniversary dates, etc.
- Memorize all your passwords and PINS (or keep them in a secure place).