3 signs of unemployment benefits scams, and how to avoid them


More than 40 million Americans have filed unemployment claims so far during the coronavirus pandemic, and fraudsters are scamming their way into some of those benefits.

People in multiple states have recently been targeted by fraudulent unemployment benefits schemes. On Thursday, officials in Washington state said it had recovered $300 million in unemployment benefits paid to criminals filing bogus claims. In Massachusetts, officials are adding new identity-verification steps after finding “large amounts of illegitimate unemployment claims,” leading to delays in unemployment payments.

The Office of Inspector General at the U.S. Department of Labor said in a fraud alert that scammers have also offered to help individuals file claims for unemployment benefits. “Unsolicited calls, social media platforms, and door-to-door visits are several ways that individuals have been targeted,” the alert states.

Don’t be fooled. Watch out for these signs that your unemployment benefits communications are not legitimate:

1. There’s a fee when there should be no fee.

As the Office of Inspector General for the Labor Department notes, “You do not need to pay anyone to file or qualify for your benefits.” You should file for free through your state’s official unemployment insurance agency, and their phone numbers and websites are compiled here.

Don’t be swayed by people telling you otherwise.

2. You’re not on an actual government agency’s online portal.

Beware of websites and social media pages that clone or mimic those of government agencies.

One such scam purported to be the site of the Alabama Department of Labor, Secretary Fitzgerald Washington shared in a press release on recent fraud cases.

This scam social media page purported to originate with the Alabama Department of Labor.
This scam social media page purported to originate with the Alabama Department of Labor.

“We are aware of at least one Facebook page that cloned the official ADOL Facebook page and then proceeded to contact those who had interacted with the legitimate page with bogus offers of prizes and requests to allow them to file for benefits on the claimant’s behalf,” said Washington.

If you want to double-check that you are using the official platform of your state’s unemployment insurance agency, go to CareerOneStop, which is sponsored by the Department of Labor and compiles the appropriate links and phone contact information for each state’s unemployment benefits system.

3. You are being asked to share sensitive information over text or email.

When you are filing for unemployment benefits, the state’s unemployment insurance agency will ask you to share personal information related to your unemployment and your recent earnings.

“They will ask you for your social security number, your name, your address for the last 18 months, your employer’s name and address for the last 18 months, and all of your earnings records from the last 18 months,” said Michele Evermore, a senior policy analyst for the National Employment Law Project who specializes in unemployment insurance.

Because of the recent nationwide scams, some state agencies may also reach out to verify your identity, Evermore said. “You need to respond to that quickly and if possible, electronically, because it’s slower to process that verification if you send it in on paper,” she said.

But you should not be asked to share or verify this sensitive information over text or email ― it would happen through the state’s official portal for unemployment insurance. “It depends on the state, but they are not going to direct you to anything other than the state UI website, or to mail your information to the state UI agency,” Evermore said.

“We WILL NOT ask you for personal information or for you to verify your eligibility for unemployment benefits by email or text message,” declares the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, for example.

To deal with long queues, some state unemployment insurance agencies will call applicants back by phone, but “it’s doubtful the agency would call you out of the blue. You’d know you’ve gotten in line for a callback,” Evermore noted.

When in doubt about the authenticity of a communication, look up your state’s official phone numbers and website for unemployment benefits and compare them to what you have received.

If you do think you have spotted an unemployment scam or know someone who has been scammed, you can report it to the Office of the Inspector General online or by calling the hotline below:

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  • This article originally appeared on HuffPost.