The COVID-19 crisis has, no doubt, inflicted undue hardship on millions of Americans. Unemployment benefits are a lifeline for many people at this time. Unfortunately, that makes unemployment recipients a target of scammers. Here's what you need to know to stay safe from unemployment benefits fraud.
How Unemployment Fraud Works
Identity thieves take advantage of stressful times to trick people into sharing their private information. Given everything that's going on with the pandemic, that means we all need to be especially careful right now.
Identity thieves regularly use a scam called "phishinq". In a phishing scam, the identity thief will first create a massive list of email addresses or phone numbers. They then send out a mass email or text messages to this list. Identity thieves don't know anything about you except your email address or phone number. They also know that most people won't respond. Their goal is just to get some people to click on the link they send in their text/email.
Identity thieves often claim to be from an organization you trust, like the Minnesota Unemployment Benefits office or even your credit union). They will say you need to login in or click on a link for a very important reason, such as:
- There is an error or problem with your account
- Your account has been suspended/deactivated
- Your application for benefits is incomplete
- You won a prize or gift card
- You were a victim of fraud
Identity thieves will also give you an urgent deadline to reply. They do this so you feel pressured to answer right away. They don't want you to think - they just want you to click on their link.
Once you click they will likely ask you to provide sensitive personal information such as your banking account information, social security numbers, and unemployment benefits account number. Once they have this information they will use a variety of tactics to access your money. We've explained a common scenario in the sections below.
Identity thieves can be very convincing - any of us can fall for their tricks if we're not careful. We're sharing this information to give you some tips on how to protect yourself from unemployment benefits identity theft.
What if I'm Expecting an Unemployment Benefit?
If you are a First Alliance Credit Union member expecting your unemployment benefit, when you check your account in online or mobile banking, or your monthly statement, the transaction will be labeled like this in your transaction list: MN DEPT OF DEED; the date of the transaction; UI BENEFIT
However, if you see a transaction that looks like this: MA DUA; the date of the transaction; CARES ACT or any other state abbreviation before the DUA, and CARES ACT is in the description, this is likely fraud.
What Do I Do if I Get a Deposit Like This?
If a deposit hits your account with a description that looks like the one above, or a deposit hits your account that you weren't expecting, contact your financial institution immediately. Your financial institution will immediately freeze those funds and return them to the originator.
It is vitally important that you do not spend any of this money or send it to anyone who requests it. The second step in the fraud is a "mule" contacting the person who received the funds, asking them to return a portion of it using a person- to-person payment system like Cash App. If you send any of that money out, you will be responsible for paying that amount back to the financial institution. These fraudsters are sending thousands and thousands of dollars to unsuspecting Americans.
Protect Yourself From Identity Thieves
Here are the top three things you should keep in mind if an unknown person calls or messages you:
- Never click a link or view an attachment that came from an unknown person. Clicking a link or viewing an attachment can cause malicious software to download to your device. Another concern is that some links can lead to a fake web site (which may look like a real website you may have visited before). These fake websites are designed specifically to steal your information. To make sure you are accessing the correct Unemployment Insurance login page, ALWAYS start by going to www.uimn.org
- Never give an unknown person your private information (like your bank account number or your Social Security Number). If the person claims to be from a legitimate organization, tell them you'll return their call using the official phone number listed on their official public web site.
- Never share your username/password. No legitimate bank or government agency will ever ask you for your username or password.
Additionally, here are some things you should keep in mind about how the Minnesota unemployment benefits office will communicate with you about your account and benefits:
- They will NEVER send text messages about your unemployment account, if you receive a text message about your unemployment account, you should assume it is fraud.
- They will NEVER send social media messages to contact you about your unemployment accounts, if you receive a social media message about your unemployment account, you should assume it is fraudulent.
- They will NEVER offer prizes or gift cards for completing surveys (or for any other reason).
- They will NEVER suggest alternate payment methods, such as asking you to "apply for a new debit card" or suggest a different direct deposit account for you to use to receive your benefits.
- They will NEVER work with third party websites that help you apply for unemployment benefits. If you need to apply for benefits or request benefit payments, always start by going to the official website for Minnesota unemployment insurance: www.uimn.org. You should never pay a fee to anyone to help you with your unemployment account.
If you need to access your Minnesota unemployment benefits account, ALWAYS start by going to their website www.uimn.org. This will ensure you're on the real website and not a fraudulent version.
Remain Vigilant to Unemployment Fraud and Scams With Help From First Alliance
We should always be vigilant about monitoring our accounts, and it is more important now than ever before that we're more cautious about scams and fraudsters and we're closely monitoring our accounts. We encourage you to review the additional information below we have curated about recognizing and avoiding fraud and identity theft to further protect yourself.
- 21 Tips to Avoid Identity Theft
- What You Need to Know About Identity Theft
- Coronavirus Isn't Stopping Scammers
- 5 Steps to Take to Protect Yourself from Online Fraud
- Protect Yourself from COVID-19 Scams
If you are a First Alliance Credit Union member we encourage you to take advantage of all the free tools and resources we offer to help keep your finances safe.