Los Angeles – City Attorney Mike Feuer issued another COVID-19 related alert today warning Angelenos to protect themselves from a new identity theft scam designed to fraudulently collect unemployment benefits. 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 that 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,” said Feuer. “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. All this is adding extra strain to our state's over-burdened unemployment network at a time when record numbers of Californians desperately need benefits.”
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), scams targeting unemployment benefits are hurting tens of thousands of people nationwide. Although this scam can take many forms, it typically works like this:
A scammer files an unemployment claim using a stolen identity and then has the benefits – which California frequently pays on debit cards – 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. 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.
Many victims of this unemployment scam don’t know they’ve been hit until they try to file a claim themselves or get told by their employer that a claim has been filed, even though they are still employed. Some will not even learn that their identities have been stolen until the IRS informs them next year, through a 1099-G form, that they owe taxes on the unemployment benefits taken in their name.
Los Angeles residents should be on the lookout for the following methods commonly used to steal personal information:
Phishing emails and texts claiming to be from EDD or another agency that offers assistance in filing for unemployment. The message might say your claim is incomplete and will demand that you provide your Social Security or credit card number before it can be finalized.
Scam websites claiming to be able to help you file and collect your unemployment benefits quickly. In California, unemployment claims are only accepted at the California Employment Development Department.
Phone and text scams claiming that your unemployment benefits have been suspended until you respond by supplying your personal information, such as your debit card or bank account numbers. EDD will never contact you 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.
If you suspect that someone has claimed unemployment benefits using your Social Security number, call the EDD Fraud Hotline at 1-800-229-6297, or report it online by searching "fraud" at the California Employment Development Department. You should also notify the Internal Revenue Service by filing an Identity Theft Affidavit (Form 14039).
To protect yourself from unemployment scams, be wary of the following:
Communication about unemployment insurance forms though you haven’t applied for unemployment;
Unauthorized transactions on your bank or credit card statements related to benefits;
Any fees involved in filing or qualifying for unemployment insurance;
Unsolicited inquiries related to unemployment benefits; or
Fictitious websites and social media pages mimicking those of government agencies.
Since the beginning of the Los Angeles coronavirus outbreak in early March, City Attorney Feuer has been a national leader in responding to a wide array of COVID-19 related issues, including:
Filing eight criminal complaints against those allegedly engaged in price gouging;
Filing four civil lawsuits against companies and individuals selling unapproved and/or fraudulent COVID-19 tests;
Filing a civil lawsuit that alleged that defendants were selling disinfectant products that did not perform as represented;
Negotiating two settlements that required defendants offering allegedly unauthorized COVID-19 at-home tests to cease their practices and to provide all purchasers with full restitution in an amount totaling over $170,000;
Filing a lawsuit against a company that allegedly offered a fake treatment and cure for COVID-19 and obtaining a settlement that requires the company to give a full refund to consumers who purchased the product when the claims were made as well requiring them to pay a $20,000 civil penalty;
Hosting the Hate Crime Prevention Forum in response to hate incidents targeting the Asian American Pacific Islander community.
Filing a lawsuit against a local skilled nursing facility alleging patient dumping during the pandemic;
Filing a criminal complaint against an individual for allegedly selling unapproved COVID-19 test kits through Craigslist;
Forming the Joint Coronavirus Task Force with LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey, Los Angeles County Counsel and Los Angeles County Department of Consumer and Business Affairs;
Launching the Behind Closed Doors campaign to help victims of in-home crimes amid the crisis;
Partnering with Mayor Eric Garcetti on LA Represents which provides pro-bono legal assistance to Angelenos facing hardships due to the virus.