LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — When the pandemic hit last year, we worried about the virus as well as the health of our family and friends.
Something else that nobody thought of early on was the absolute mess that the unemployment system would become.
First, people out of work suffered crushing financial problems, but then, thousands of Kentuckians had their identities stolen.
Much of the unemployment fraud has been blamed on an antiquated computer system. Critics have pointed to the rush to approve claims quickly and get the money in the hands of people.
Regardless of how it happened, it can be panic-inducing if someone files in your name.
That happened to me and all I could think of was "What do I do?!"
Nobody likes getting an unexpected email titled "Unemployment" from HR. But when I opened this one a few weeks ago, I was more than puzzled... I was scared! Either I was out of a job, or somebody else was claiming to be me and asking for an unemployment check... in my name!
"Anyone who has had this happen to them is going to be alarmed," said Heather Clary, who works for the Better Business Bureau of Central & Eastern Kentucky. "How did they get my information? Because it does call for a great deal of information to file for unemployment."
We've always been warned to watch our information, including our birthday, social security number, driver's license number, etc. But all of it may already be out there somewhere... with somebody's greedy hands all over it.
"How the con artists are getting it? Who knows? It's anybody's guess," said Clary.
The folks here at LEX 18 in the business office quickly denied the unemployment request. That was fairly easy. But what concerned me the most... what else could happen?
Lindsey Hix, a spokesperson for the state attorney general's office, says people should stay calm if it happens to them and calls it a "very common occurrence."
"ID theft occurs every day and there are steps to mitigate it and make sure that it doesn't become a bigger problem," said Hix.
The attorney general is investigating some claims. The office of unemployment is handling most. The feds are even looking into some cases.
Some of the crooks may be brought to justice, but unfortunately, the agency says much of this begins overseas.
What Do I Do Now?
First, I was told, act fast! The point is to mitigate it so it doesn't cause any harm to me or my credit record.
Fill out this form if you think you are a victim of unemployment fraud.
You are the claimant. The fairly short form gets your name red-flagged, so to speak, so the state knows you've been targeted.
Then, the state says it's important to do the following:
- Notify your employer: In my case, they already knew.
- File a police report: I saw conflicting advice on this. Other sites say go to the police only if the thief takes more action, like trying to apply for a credit card in your name. I did not go to the police. If you do, hang on to the police report in case you need it down the road.
- File a complaint: Go to identitytheft.gov and file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
Even after doing all that, it didn't feel adequate to me. I wanted to take more action.
Heather Clary with the Better Business Bureau had this advice.
Monitor Your Credit Report:
This is good news. Because of the pandemic, the three reporting agencies (TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian) allow you to check your credit for free... once a week!
"What you're looking for is unauthorized activity that you don't recognize," said Clary. "'I never had that loan, I didn't open that credit card,' ... if you see something on there that is not you, then you have the right to dispute it. The credit agency will look into it and remove it if it is, indeed, incorrect."
I also went to my bank. I have a good relationship there, and they were happy to check out my accounts. I went the extra step and purchased ID theft alert from them... a few dollars a month that could save me a lot of headaches.
Keep documents on everything you do, including copies of police reports or emails from the unemployment office. Write down every phone call with the time and date and every email you send with a summary. And not just once or twice, but maybe for the next year, until the next time you file your taxes.
It might seem like a hassle, but the best way to protect yourself is to be diligent. Anywhere you have money or credit... keep a close eye on it.