Who is a member?
Our members are the local governments of Massachusetts and their elected and appointed leadership.
It usually starts in one of two ways: You’re sitting at your desk and HR calls and asks why you filed for unemployment insurance, or you open your mail to find an unexpected letter from the state with information about an unemployment insurance claim in your name. Either way, you’re likely a victim of unemployment insurance fraud.
The problem is rampant, and also affects legitimate claimants who discover that someone else has already filed a claim in their name.
The Boston Globe reported on Nov. 23 that of 31,000 new claims filed over the weekend of Nov. 14 and 15, only about 1,000 – a little over 3% – cleared the state’s screening, according to the Department of Unemployment Assistance, with the others held due to possible fraud.
“There is a tremendous amount of bot-based fraud going on,” Gov. Charlie Baker said during a press briefing on Nov. 23.
More than 58,000 fraudulent unemployment claims were filed between March 8 and June 20, according to the DUA. At the time, the department said it had recovered $158 million.
Recent news articles contain story after story of local individuals, including municipal employees, who have been targets. Agawam Mayor Bill Sapelli told MassLive that he was one of several town employees who were targeted.
“We have several individuals that have been hacked, if you will, and all of a sudden you receive a letter saying you signed up for unemployment,” Sapelli said. “Our personnel office is getting those all the time, and they are getting them from people sitting at their desk – I being one of them.”
Worcester Mayor Joseph Petty told CBS Boston on Nov. 19 that 1,025 city employees have been hit by scammers using their identities to file for unemployment benefits.
“This happened to me three times,” Petty said.
FBI Special Agent Michael Livingood of the Economic Crimes Task Force told GBH news on Oct. 25, “Typically, what we see in these types of scams is that there is people’s personal information for sale online.”
Someone obtaining that information, he said, can then file for fraudulent unemployment.
There isn’t a central database where someone can check to see if a claim has been filed in their name or with their Social Security number.
According to the DUA, those who have been notified of a fraudulent claim made in their name should take the following steps:
1. Use the secure fraud reporting form to alert the DUA or call the DUA customer service department at 877-626-6800. The DUA’s Program Integrity Unit will then take appropriate action, including freezing the DUA account associated with the report. If any payments were made, they will not be reported as income to the affected individual at the end of the year. In addition, the fraudulent claim will not impact anyone’s ability to collect unemployment should the need arise in the future, and no charges will be assessed to the reporter’s employer. Employers who wish to report fraud, may send an email to UIFraud@detma.org.
2. File a police report with your local police department. Get a copy of the report to provide to creditors and credit agencies.
3. Change passwords on your email, banking and other personal accounts.
4. Make a list of credit card companies, banks and other financial institutions where you do business. Tell them you are a victim of identity theft, and ask them to put a fraud alert on your account.
5. Get a copy of your credit report and dispute any fraudulent activity. You can request credit reports online from the three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) by calling 877-322-8228 or visiting www.annualcreditreport.com.
6. Contact all three of the major reporting agencies to freeze your credit reports.
Equifax: 800-349-9960 or www.equifax.com/personal/credit-report-services
Experian: 888-397-3742 or www.experian.com/freeze/center.html
TransUnion: 888-909-8872 or www.transunion.com/credit-freeze
7. Place a fraud alert on your credit file. You can do this by contacting just one of the credit agencies to add an alert with all three agencies.
8. Take notes about all conversations and keep copies of all records.
The DUA website has a list of unemployment scams to watch out for.
If you have ever been notified that your data was compromised, it is even more important to remain vigilant about your credit and to closely monitor activity.
For more information, visit www.mass.gov/info-details/report-unemployment-benefits-fraud or identitytheft.gov.
Written by Joyce McMahon