The New York State Department of Labor today announced that it has prevented more than $1 billion from falling into fraudsters’ hands during the coronavirus pandemic, identifying and stopping more than 42,200 fraudulent unemployment benefit claims since mid-March. In the last five months, DOL has referred more unemployment fraud cases to federal prosecutors than the department did in the last ten years combined.
“Unfortunately, we have to fight unemployment fraud every day — not just during pandemics — but attempting to defraud the government during a global public health emergency when millions are filing legitimate claims for benefits is particularly shameful. These scammers have been stealing hardworking New Yorkers’ identities for years, waiting to strike, but we will not let them succeed,” New York State Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon said. “We have a robust and experienced team of fraud investigators and are working aggressively with partners in law enforcement to identify fraud and hold these criminals accountable.”
“Preying on the welfare of New Yorkers during a global pandemic is a new low,” said Superintendent of Financial Services Linda A. Lacewell.“ We urge every New Yorker to be vigilant and take all necessary precautions to protect your identity and help put a stop to this.”
Fraudsters are using real New Yorkers’ identities — likely stolen during previous data breaches involving institutions like banks, insurance companies, and major employers — to file fraudulent claims and illegally collect benefits in the name of individuals who are not unemployed.
In response to this uptick in fraudulent claims, Department of Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon and Department of Financial Services Superintendent Linda Lacewell released a new public service announcement educating New Yorkers about how to protect themselves against identity theft. The PSA can be viewed here.
Unemployment insurance fraud rings often target New Yorkers who are employed and not collecting unemployment benefits because those individuals are less likely to have an active claim that would prevent the criminals from filing a fraudulent claim. Employees working in health care, education, government, and non-profits have been particularly impacted and should remain especially vigilant.
The DOL urges anyone who has received an official communication about unemployment benefits — like a monetary determination letter — but did not apply for unemployment benefits, to immediately report it to the DOL at on.ny.gov/uifraud.
New Yorkers impacted should also take steps to proactively protect themselves from identity theft, including those highlighted by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at IdentityTheft.gov, such as:
- Changing passwords, logins, and pins for online accounts, especially banks;
- Placing a free fraud alert on their accounts with the three credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax);
- Getting a free credit report from annualcreditreport.com;
- Reporting the identity theft to the FTC;
- Filing a report with their local police department, if they wish; and
- Reporting a misused Social Security number.
The Department of Labor’s Office of Special Investigations is using modern technology — including artificial intelligence — to identify and stop fraudulent claims. In addition, the DOL uses information from other government agencies, New Yorkers, and employers to protect the integrity of the unemployment system. The DOL works closely with partners at the USDOL Office of Inspector General, the Secret Service, the FBI and local law enforcement.