City Attorney Mike Feuer Wednesday issued another COVID-19-related alert, warning Angelenos to protect themselves against a new identity theft scam designed to fraudulently collect unemployment benefits.
Feuer said scammers use stolen Social Security numbers and other personal information to apply for and receive unemployment benefits in their victims' names. Victims may not learn they were targeted until they apply for unemployment themselves or receive a bill from the IRS for taxes they owe on benefits they never received.
"Since the pandemic erupted, we've fought back against scammers trying to take advantage of people who may be scared, isolated and more easily victimized,'' Feuer said. "In this latest scam, not only are hundreds of millions of dollars being stolen nationwide, but people's identities are being taken without them knowing it.''
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According to the Federal Trade Commission, scams targeting unemployment benefits are hurting tens of thousands of people nationwide.
Although this scam can take many forms, a scammer typically files an unemployment claim using a stolen identity and then gets the benefits, which California frequently pays on debit cards.
The cards are mailed to them at a home address or business. The scammers may buy already stolen identities online or steal them through email and text phishing attacks or by cold-calling victims claiming to be government officials or potential employers.
Feuer said although it may sound simple, this scam may be the latest one from a sophisticated West African fraud ring that uses identities stolen in prior data breaches, such as the 2017 Equifax breach.
Phishing emails and texts claiming to be from EDD or another agency that offers assistance in filing for unemployment are another form. The message might say a claim is incomplete and will demand someone provide their Social Security or credit card number before it can be finalized.
Feuer said Angelenos can protect themselves from these scams by avoiding:
- Scam websites claiming to be able to help people file and collect unemployment benefits quickly. In California, unemployment claims are only accepted at edd.ca.gov/unemployment.
- Phone and text scams claiming someone's unemployment benefits have been suspended until they respond by supplying personal information, such as debit card or bank account numbers. EDD will never contact people through text.
- Jobseeker cons in which scammers claim to be employers offering you a job in order to collect your personal information or steal money. If an unknown caller offers you a job that sounds too good to be true, requires any sort of payment or references a resume you have not posted, it is likely a scam, Feuer said.
For people who suspect they've been a victim of these unemployment scams, the EDD Fraud Hotline is 1-800-229-6297. Complaints can also be reported online at www.edd.ca.gov.
People can also notify the Internal Revenue Service by filing an identity theft affidavit (form 14039) at www.irs.gov.