"I don't even file, and here comes to money." Pete Lovett is one of those workers.
Lovette first learned about the unemployment payments when he got a letter from the North Carolina Division of Employment Security Commission (DES), letting him know his claim was approved. The next day Lovett received a prepaid debit card in his mailbox loaded with unemployment funds.
He said he called DES right away.
"I called them because I haven't missed one day of work this year. I told him I wasn't unemployed, and I never filed."
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Lovett said he even asked his boss if anyone from the unemployment office called to check on his employment status.
"He was shaking his head, because he had never heard of anything, and nobody's contacted him. They can't figure it out."
Since Lovett is an essential worker, and on the road full time for his job, his wife, Crystal, took over trying to call DES to report the fraud.
She said she waited on hold for more than an hour, waiting to talk to someone. When she finally talked to a live person, they transferred her to a voicemail box.
"When they transfer the person, it goes to their mailbox is full, so you can't even leave a message," she said.
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She called back and told them about the full voicemail box.
"He said well I can take your name and number, and they get back with you, and I said, 'Well, how long will it take?' It's about three or four weeks. I say, 'You mean I have to wait three or four weeks to report fraud?' And he was like, 'Yeah.'"
Meanwhile, another check for $2,800 in unemployment benefits showed up in the Lovett's mailbox.
"Which makes no sense to me because I just told you I'm not unemployed, but you still cut the check," Lovett said.
The Lovetts kept calling DES, and Crystal finally got someone at their call center to reset the password so they could log in her husband's account and see who may have filed an unemployment claim.
When they got online, they realized the majority of information was wrong as whoever filed for the unemployment listed Lovett's race wrong, the wrong phone number, email, and his work hours and shifts wrong.
About the only thing they had correct, Lovett's address.
"We don't know who did this, we don't know if it was internal or what because we really want to know."
No matter how the scammer got Lovett's information, he and his wife don't want DES to keep sending money.
"We didn't file. We're not paying taxes and we're not being responsible for this money," Crystal said. She kept calling DES to get answers. She says she finally got someone to answer her requests, "They asked, 'Well, have you filled out the form?' I said 'Yes, twice.' ... 'We've been trying to do this for almost three weeks.' I said, 'I'm calling Diane Wilson.'"
Troubleshooter Diane Wilson got in touch with DES, and a representative said, "First, we want to thank Mr. and Mrs. Lovett for the steps they took to alert the Division of Employment Security to suspected fraud. They did exactly the right thing, and we have reached out to them. Because of their actions, we were able to prevent benefits from getting into the wrong hands."
In other fraud cases, DES states: "From March 1 - July 1, DES has flagged 129 cases of suspected identity theft and approximately 2,600 cases of suspected wage/earnings fraud. Thousands more claims that have appeared suspicious have had holds placed on them throughout this period so that they could be reviewed."
The Lovetts say a representative with DES did reach out and asked them to mail back the check and debit card containing the unemployment funds, which they said they did. In the meantime, Lovett said he is on high alert, making sure no one else uses his good name.
"Check your information; check your mail. I want people to realize to check their credit," Lovett said.
A DES representative said when it comes to instances in which a scammer uses someone's personal identifying information to receive or attempt to receive unemployment benefits, the personal identifying information may have been obtained through outside data breaches, email phishing, impersonation scams or other methods. When potential ID theft is discovered, DES puts a hold on a claim. If you are a victim, you should report it to the State Attorney General's Office, file a police report and contact credit bureaus. DES adds the investigation of the individual who committed identity theft would be a matter for law enforcement.
To prevent fraud, DES is taking a few safeguards and additional measures due to the surge in unemployment claims in recent months due to COVID-19. Those efforts include:
- Partnering with North Carolina's Government Data Analytics Center to enhance fraud alerting capability and prevent cybersecurity attacks, with the use of $2 million from the state's Coronavirus Relief Fund.
- Participating in the National Association of Workforce Agencies' Integrity Data Hub, which provides a multi-state database of known and potentially fraudulent claims.
- Monitoring and researching claims data, trends, tips, and leads related to suspected fraudulent activity or identity theft.
- Engaging with other states, organizations, and partners to share best practices on evolving fraud schemes.
The FBI also reported a spike in fraudulent unemployment claims related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic involving stolen personal information. That organization provided these tips to protect yourself against a fraudulent unemployment claim being filed in your name.
- Be wary of telephone calls and text messages, letters, websites, or emails that require you to provide your personal information or other sensitive information, especially birth dates and Social Security numbers. Be cautious with attachments and embedded links within an email, especially from an unknown email sender.
- Monitor your bank accounts on a regular basis and request your credit report for free at least once a year to look for any fraudulent activity. If you believe you are a victim, review your credit report more frequently.
- Immediately report unauthorized transactions to your financial institution or credit card provider.
- If you suspect you are a victim, immediately contact the three major credit bureaus to place a fraud alert on your credit records. Additionally, notify the Internal Revenue Service by filing an Identity Theft Affidavit (IRS Form 14039) through irs.gov or identitytheft.gov.