As unemployment rises in Minnesota, an increasing number of cases have emerged in which a suspect uses someone else’s information to fraudulently file for unemployment as them.
It’s generally easy to catch, since the unemployment insurance program has to verify each claim with the employer. The person whose information has been stolen usually receives a letter in the mail letting them know they’ve qualified for a certain amount of benefits, alerting them that someone has filed.
Historically, these “imposter claims” account for less than one percent of fraudulent activity regarding unemployment claims annually, said Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development spokesperson Jake Loesch. He said in the last month, 95 percent of the 5,000 reports of potential fraudulent activity - which could indicate anything from a misspelling to actual fraud - had already been caught by the time they were reported.
In St. Louis Park, Nicole Kapinos, who works as a nurse, got one of those letters letting her know she’d qualified for unemployment a few weeks ago.
“I thought, well that’s weird,” Kapinos said.
Using the details from the letter, she logged on to her account and found it had been blocked. She waited on hold for two hours to talk with someone.
“If I didn’t have two hours to spend on the phone, and just put it off … that money would have started, and it would have been a huge problem at tax time, because it would have looked like I made money that I didn't make,” she said.
Her husband received the same letter. His employer, Allina Health, said this has happened to at least 85 of its employees.
Filing for unemployment requires a social security number. Mitchell said it’s likely that the suspects have obtained the information from previous database breaches at various companies.
“They’re on the dark web for sale for anyone who wants to buy it, so that information doesn’t just go away, it’s continually out there,” he said.
Those affected by this scam should report it to the unemployment insurance program and the police, Loesch said. They also should place fraud alerts with one of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian or TransUnion. A free credit report is available at annualcreditreport.com.
In addition, they can contact the Social Security Administration’s fraud hotline at 800-269-0271. They can also order a copy of their Personal Earnings and Benefit Estimate Statement (PEBES) to make sure the work history on file with the SSA is accurate.
In Rochester, which is among the first cities to issue a PSA regarding this, officers have taken around 50 reports of this kind of fraud, said Sgt. John Mitchell.
“If people are victimized by this, (they should) just make sure they’re diligent in alerting the credit bureaus and trying to be proactive as they can,” Mitchell said.