Fraudulent unemployment claims have increased dramatically during the pandemic. The problem is everywhere. So much information is available about how to prevent identity theft, but would you know what to do if this happened to you? Really. Where would you start?
Well, I'm not a lawyer, but from firsthand experience, I learned the first things that you need to do if you become a victim of unemployment claim fraud.
When you get that dreaded call from your Human Resources department, you have a choice.
Step #1- Call The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity and Reemployment Assistance Office, which is Florida's version of the Dept. of Labor. The DEO phone number is 1-833-352-7759. This will likely take hours to get through. Be prepared to wait on hold for 1- 6 hours. The earlier you call in the day, the better. Once a live person comes on the phone, you make your initial report about the fraud and they will record your information by putting a flag on your account to alert officials that something needs a closer look before they send out any money.
The other option is to fill out the new online fraud form, which can be found by visiting the website and scrolling down to Report Fraud at the bottom of the page. Note that your only two options are to call or complete an online form. No paper forms. Whichever option you choose, contacting the DEO is the best first step to take control of your situation.
Step #2 is to get on your computer and go to the Federal Trade Commission. The landing page will have the button Report Identity Theft. Once you get there, create an account. There is an online form to fill and submit. You will receive a case number, which you will need to keep because you will be asked to update your form periodically or else your file will be closed for inactivity. However, this is the best second step to take to prevent any further damage that might occur to your identity. What you are doing is alerting the most important agencies about this fraud and doing damage control.
Step #3- If you were lucky, although it might not feel like it at the time, the person you spoke to from the DEO told you that you now need to call another phone number to file your report on the DEO Fraud Hot Line, where you will report more details of your case. The number for this is 1-800-342-9909.
Some easier steps to take now are...
Step #4- Call your bank to alert them of what has happened.
Step #5- Call your credit card companies to alert them of what has happened.
Step #6- When you're at home, place a credit freeze on all three credit bureaus- Experian, Equifax, and Transunion. But, the best option is to call. You will have to call each one of them separately for the credit freeze. A credit freeze can be lifted at any time in case you need to make a large purchase. You should receive a PIN from one of the credit bureaus, and you will use that PIN to lift the freeze, which you can put back in effect.
Step #7- Check your credit report. If you have credit card accounts that are still open even though they've been inactive for years, go ahead and close them. Less chance for someone to find and use them.
Okay, let's go back to some heavier steps.
Step #8- Depending on the time of year, you should go to the IRS website. There is an identity theft form. It has the option for "I don't know if my taxes are affected, but I have been a victim of identity theft." Choose that one. Fill out the form and submit it. The worry is that if someone out there has your SSN, and used it to file an unemployment claim, then they could also file a fraudulent tax return and get your refund or your stimulus check if they get their fake file in to the IRS before you get your real one in. If your tax return gets rejected, then you will know that someone got their fraudulent tax return in before you did.
Step #9- Another thing you can get from the IRS is an IP PIN for extra security. They only send these out to people during a rather short window of time each year, so prepare to wait for the best part of a year to receive your IP PIN, which you can use for next year's taxes.
Step #10- Speaking of Social Security, go to the SSA website and file an online identity theft report with them, also.
And for a bonus step, Step #11, change some of your passwords.
Once you've completed these 10 steps of damage control, continue to monitor everything. You've entered into a new phase of life... post-identity theft, and it will likely have a long-lasting and sobering effect on you.
It has on me.