What to do if you are a victim of unemployment fraud
Suburban employers and workers are reporting an uptick in fraudulent unemployment claims, part of a nationwide trend of opportunistic scams spurred by rising joblessness due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We are getting a lot of calls," said Alexandra Ovington, crime prevention officer for the Arlington Heights Police Department.
Neighboring police departments also have seen an influx of unemployment fraud claims in the last several months, she said.
Kerry Doctor, an Arlington Heights special education teacher, found out the week before Christmas that someone had filed for unemployment benefits in her name.
"It was really stressful because my identity had gotten stolen," Doctor said. "I was really scared because I thought (my employer) thought I was double-dipping."
After she rejected the claim, it took a couple of months to get the issue sorted out.
"If you're getting an unemployment check and you are not supposed to have it, do not cash it," Doctor said. "And you 100% call that (state) phone number."
In many cases, fraudulent claims are filed using the identity of someone still employed. That's why experts advise victims of unemployment fraud to follow the same steps as with identity theft.
Workers typically find out their information has been compromised when the Illinois Deparment of Employment Security verifies claims with employers, or when they receive a debit card or an unemployment insurance letter in the mail, and have not filed a claim for benefits.
"About 80% of the claims we received last week were fraudulent," said Jorie Cummis, chief executive officer for Chicago-based NSN Employer Services Inc.
The company represents employers nationwide -- ranging in size from 10 to 180,000 employees -- in unemployment matters. It processes between 3,000 and 4,000 claims weekly.
"This is highly unusual," Cummis said. "Fraud, in and of itself, has been an issue in the unemployment system for a while, but since the pandemic, it has kicked up."
If employers don't challenge the fraud when notified, IDES automatically sends the employees who have been defrauded a debit card that eventually can be used in receiving unemployment benefits.
"We've been giving them advice basically that they should follow all of the steps that are recommended when you become a victim of identity theft," Cummis said.
Here are six best practices for dealing with identity theft:
• File a police report immediately.
• Contact all three major credit reporting agencies to report the identity theft.
• Report unemployment fraud at www2.illinois.gov/ides.
• Review bank accounts and notify institutions that have your financial information. Any funds deposited from unemployment must be paid back.
• Contact the Social Security Administration at ssa.gov/antifraudfacts/.
• Report the fraud at identitytheft.gov.
• To report unemployment insurance fraud, call (800) 814-0513.