Work Wanted: Unemployment claims fraud on the increase in Florida
One of CareerSource’s directives is to help people who are unemployed get their job search on track. We regularly reach out to people receiving Re-employment Assistance (Florida’s term for unemployment compensation) to invite them in for a one-on-one meeting to develop strategy about their career path. Lately, we’ve run into more and more cases of fraud — unemployment claims filed through identity theft. The person we contact tells us he’s never been unemployed; he’s been working steadily for the past few years.
According to an April 2014 investigation by a Tampa news station, Florida leads the nation in identity theft; Tampa ranks third in the country.
Some people find out that their identity has been used for a false claim when their company’s HR department comes to them with a request for verification of the employee’s termination. Others receive a form from the state of Florida confirming a change of address (so the claim checks can go to the perpetrator’s mailbox.)
To file a false claim, criminals need a birth date and driver’s license number. They cruise neighborhood mailboxes or your trash to steal documents that may contain Social Security numbers or other valuable personal information. They also cruise social media sites like Facebook, where people often post their birth dates. Tampa’s news investigation found that because Florida uses a formula for creating driver’s license numbers, it’s easy to guess a number if you can obtain someone’s birth date and year and their middle initial.
If your name has been used to file a fraudulent unemployment claim, here are the steps you should take. First, notify the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity; you can find them online at floridajobs.org or call (800) 342-9909 to report fraud. They may also be able to provide information, such as the address listed on the false claim.
Next, take steps to protect your credit and financial information. The Federal Trade Commission recommends that you place a fraud alert on your credit reports and with your financial institutions. Monitor your accounts regularly to look for more fraudulent activity. Next, file a police report and give them all the information you have about the false claim. Start a file and keep careful records of every call you make, listing the date, the person you spoke to, and any steps they promised to take (with dates.) Once your identity is compromised, you’ll need to be very organized and vigilant to prevent serious damage to your credit.
You’ll need to notify the IRS as well, since unemployment compensation is taxable income. The IRS’ site on identity theft is very helpful, and you’ll find a link to fill out the IRS Identity Theft Affidavit, Form 14039.
Make it a policy to shred financial documents and any others that contain personal information. Check your privacy settings on social media. Keep organized records that will make it easy to identify suspicious activity on your accounts. Cyber-crime and fraud is a constant threat, but these precautions will make it harder to victimize you.
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