In Mississippi, identity thieves have been targeting school districts to steal the unemployment benefits of unsuspecting employees.
These criminals have been filing for unemployment benefits by using school employees’ Social Security numbers to get benefits sent to prepaid cards.
According to an article in the Clarion-Ledger, Mississippi’s Attorney General office sent an email to schools that explained, “The Attorney General’s office is investigating but what the criminals are counting on is that the district will not respond timely to the request for benefits due to the volume of paperwork coming in.”
The unemployment benefits scheme, however, isn’t limited to schools.
In fact, nearly 1,500 Mississippians have had their identities compromised by unemployment benefits, costing $140,000, according to Dianne Bell, director of communications for Mississippi Department of Employment Security.
Bell also explained to the Clarion-Ledger that the department blocked more than 600,000 attempts to file fraudulent claims in the last two months alone.
Employees in any industry are urged to stay proactive by reporting any mail they receive regarding unemployment benefits, if they haven’t actually filed for them.
Identity thieves have also targeted school employees in the recent past in another scheme centered on tax returns.
In a northwestern Indiana school district last March, for example, at least one individual had been trying to steal income tax refunds that should have been received by school employees.
When several employees tried to file their tax returns, the system showed they had already been submitted.
Both situations emphasize the importance of staying on top of your accounts, credit reports and financial statements or documents you may receive in the mail. Maintaining a watchful eye can help detect a potential identity theft issue as early as possible.
In the event that you suspect or recognize someone tampering with unemployment benefits or trying to file a tax return on your behalf, there are certain steps you can take.
For example, you can begin by contacting your local police department and filing a report of the theft. Be sure to obtain a copy of the report for your records, which can aid in clearing your name.
You should also contact any creditors of the accounts that you believe may have been compromised. Ask to speak with the fraud or security department so you can thoroughly explain the situation and learn which next steps you should take. Immediately close any existing accounts and open new accounts under new PINs or passwords.
Also contact the Federal Trade Commission, as well as your attorney general’s office, to inform them of the matter. They can further investigate the incident and see if others may be affected.
It’s also helpful to notify the fraud department of one of the three major credit bureaus to place a fraud alert on your file and request that the bureau call you before opening or changing any credit accounts. Once you reach out to one credit bureau, the other bureaus will also be alerted.