One of the pandemic’s costly consequences is the ongoing pilfering of the unemployment benefit systems of the individual states. Organized criminal gangs submitted, and continue to submit, phony benefits applications, on an industrial scale. 

The Associated Press reported the U.S. Justice Department estimates at least 10%, or $63 billion in benefits, are stolen. Colorado estimates half of its claims are fraudulent. Some states can’t or won’t give an estimate as to their losses. Each state manages their own system, and none seemed prepared for the levels of COVID-caused unemployment claims starting in March 2020. Congress also supplemented the state benefits with more federal money, ranging from an additional $600 weekly in 2020, to currently an additional $300 weekly. 

This amount of money and the easy targets offered by the state systems proved an opportunity not to miss for transnational crime gangs. The gangs use stolen identities to make their online applications, and recruit the unwary or the criminally inclined, to open bank accounts and accept the electronically deposited benefits. We call those people handling the money like this money mules. Many of these mules get recruited through online romances initiated on dating websites or Facebook.

The U.S. Department of Justice just released a warning on another aspect of this problem. Cyber criminals lure the unemployed to fake websites to file claims. People report receiving text messages or emails which appear as from a state unemployment agency, with links embedded leading to fake websites. These websites gather the information submitted by someone wanting to file an unemployment claim. And probably, the thieves will file the claim, but directing the payments into accounts helpfully controlled by the money mules.

To protect yourself, the Justice Department advises:

Don’t click or open links in an unexpected message looking like it came from a state unemployment agency

If you are in the unemployment system and receive such a message, contact the agency directly through the contact method on their official website.

If you want to apply for unemployment benefits you can research your options at careeronestop.org.

Contact Seniors vs. Crime

Let me know about scams, fraud, or other crookedness you run across. Most of what I learn, I learn from you. Contact me at Seniors vs. Crime, Clinton County Sheriff’s Office, (563) 242-9211, Ext. 4433, or email me at randymeier@gapa911.us.