The coronavirus pandemic has created astonishing unemployment numbers, with nearly 39 million Americans applying for unemployment benefits since mid-March. States have struggled to keep up with the demand for unemployment benefits, resulting in glitches and long wait times to process applications and receive benefits.
This dramatic increase in activity has provided scammers an opportunity to prey on the COVID-19 pandemic. They have impersonated state administrators and work to steal money or personal information to commit unemployment identity theft and other types of fraud.
If you recently applied for unemployment benefits, or will do so in the future, you should take precautions to avoid unemployment benefit scams. Here’s how.
1. Don’t Respond to Unsolicited Messages During the Pandemic
Unsolicited text messages, phone calls or emails are likely phishing scams intended to trick you into sending money or providing sensitive personal data. If you aren’t expecting to receive communications related to unemployment benefits, you should ignore any unemployment-related messages completely.
Even if you are corresponding with your state’s unemployment administrator, don’t assume that any message you receive is legitimate. You should not click any links or download any attachments from emails unless they are from a trusted source, nor should you respond to text messages. Be careful with who you provide information to over the phone.
If you want to verify that a communication is legitimate or you need more information on your unemployment benefits, you should find your state’s official contact information and reach out to them directly.
2. Use Official Unemployment Channels
The recent flood of benefit applications might make it difficult for you to get in touch with someone over the phone or online. But no matter how long it takes, your state’s official communication channels are the only means you should use to correspond.
Don’t trust any third-party websites or emails claiming to help with filing for unemployment. The only channels you should use are the official ones provided by the state government.
3. Don’t Send Money
Filing for unemployment benefits is free. If anyone asks you to pay an application fee or requests money for any other reason, do not comply. States do not charge any fees when it comes to filing for unemployment.
4. Don’t Provide Personal Information Over Email or Text
Filing for unemployment does require you to provide some personally identifiable information, which may include your Social Security number, driver’s license number, contact information for employers and wage records, such as a pay stub. But you are generally able to file online, over the phone or at an unemployment office (physical offices may currently be closed due to the pandemic, so check with your state).
Never share information outside of the official application channels via email or text message. When you do share information, you should take caution to verify that the person is an official representative by reaching out through official channels.