The VEC Warns of Scam Calls Trying to Steal Your Unemployment Money

By Arianna Coghill

November 6, 2020

Con artists try to take advantage of COVID-19 pandemic

RICHMOND- If someone from the state Employment Commission asks for your social security number on the phone, hang up. Chances are this was a “phishing scam”. Similar calls and emails have been popping up all across the country. Since the coronavirus pandemic began in March, unemployment claims have increased nationwide. As a result, several states had to expand their unemployment benefits.

Unfortunately, these “fraudsters” are trying take advantage of the expansion. They’re applying for unemployment claims in other people’s names, using information people give them over the phone or online. According to the US Department of Labor, some of them are apart of transnational organizations that are targeting state workforce agencies like the VEC.

On the bright side, this has not become a huge issue in Virginia yet. But, the VEC still wants Virginians to keep their eyes peeled. The Commission issued an alert on Oct. 30.

“The Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) is issuing this fraud alert to warn citizens of reports that individuals are being targeted across the country with scam e-mails and telephone calls seeking to gain access to their personal identifiable information (PII) for unemployment insurance,” said the VEC in a release. The VEC decided to issue the warning after the DOL gave them a heads up about the incidents.

“We were notified by the US Department of Labor about this happening all around the country,” said VEC Communications Manager Joyce Fogg. “So we wanted to alert our claimants to be aware of this.”

Right now, the US Department of Labor, alongside other government agencies, are investigating these nationwide fraud cases. Members of the National Unemployment Insurance Fraud Taskforce are working with SWAs to put a stop to these scams. But for the time being, it’s important that people stay vigilant.

What Do These Scams Look Like? 

According to a release from the VEC, these scams can come through emails and phone calls. But, these calls will look like they’re coming from a trusted source, like the DOL or the VEC. Once you pick up the phone, the scammers will ask you to click a button and speak to a representative. Afterwards, they’ll ask you for personal information, like your social security number or account password, in order to steal your identity.

Over email, things get even trickier. They’ll ask you to click on links attached in the message, usually disguising themselves as company or person you recognize. You might get an email from “Microsoft”, “Google” or even “Yahoo”.

“The scammers are sending emails using the names of companies or someone you know and trust,” warns the DOL. “They use familiar icons, folder names, and programs to trick you into giving your personal information to them.” After you click the link, it will take you to a site that looks like a Microsoft Sharepoint. Here, they’re banking on you to sign into a personal account, like your email.

Once you’ve logged in, they now have access to more than just your username and password. They’ll have access to any files you’ve stored online as well as your contacts list. They might even get access to your Social Security Number. After they have that information, they can claim your unemployment benefits for the month. Or, they’ll switch out your bank account information for their own.

Before clicking the link, the DOL advises hovering over it with your mouse to see where it will take you. Scammers will often use a shortened URL to hide the website’s true identity.

How Do I Protect Myself?

In the moment, the over-the-phone and emailed questions can feel very convincing. But, there are some giveaways that you’re dealing with a scam.  For example, the VEC will never ask for all nine digits of a social security number to identify you. So if someone claiming to be them asks for it, you’ll know it’s a scam.

“Don’t ever give out your whole security number to someone,” said Fogg. “We’ll only ask for the last four digits.”

Another thing that’s important to know- there is no state agency that will ask you login in from another website. Places like the VEC will have you login into the agency’s website, but nowhere else. Also, they’ll never have you login with your personal email. They might ask for it when you apply, but it will never be your login.

Above all, the most important lesson here is ‘do not share your personal information with third parties.’ 

“If someone you don’t know asks for your PII in order to perform some service for you,” said the DOL in a release. “Beware that the offer of services may be a scheme to collect your PII and use it for illegal purposes, including UI fraud.” The Department also recommends “good computer hygiene” and decent cybersecurity practices. That means cleaning out your files, changing your passwords and making sure all your passwords are strong.

If your password is “password” or “abc123”, chances are that scammers will have an easier time breaking into your account. It’s important to make sure that all your passwords complex and changed often. The Department also recommends a backup form of identification, like a cell phone number or facial scan, for extra security.

Keeping an eye on your credit score with a credit monitoring service is another way to stay vigilant. If anything strange pops up on your credit report, they’ll be the first ones to notify you. If you don’t have access to credit monitoring, websites like www.annualcreditreport.com will give you a free credit report from all three reporting bureaus once a year. You can also place a freeze your credit. This way no one will be able to run your credit, except for you. It’s an extra step in preventing fraud. Visit the FTC credit freeze guide for instructions.

How Do I Know If I’ve Been Scammed?

Now that you know how to protect yourself from these scams, how do you know if they’ve already taken your information? Here’s how you know if you’re a victim of a phishing scam. If you tried to file a claim for unemployment benefits, but were denied because there was already a claim in your name, you’ve probably been scammed. Or, if you’ve never applied for unemployment, but there’s a claim in your name, that’s not a good sign either. Sometimes, your current or former boss will notify you if they see a claim filed in your name.

People are especially at risk if they’ve already had their information leaked in a data breach, experienced identity theft before or if they gave their personal information to a third party.

If you think that this may have happened to you or someone else, it’s important to file a report with Federal Trade Commission. After you filing a report with the FTC, they’ll use that information to create a personal recovery plan, walking you through every step. You’ll be able to track your progress online as well as update it as needed. You can apply for a form using this link. The agency also encourages filing a report with your local police department. 

Arianna Coghill is a content producer with the Dogwood. You can reach her at [email protected]

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