Terri Rosetta has received about a dozen letters from the state Department of Labor attempting to verify the employment of people who have never worked for her.
She is the co-owner of the Milford diner.
“My concern is maybe restaurants are being targeted because a lot of them have closed down,” she said.
But fraudulent unemployment claims are on the rise in Delaware and across the nation, — and all kinds of businesses are being named in the scams.
The Delaware Division of Unemployment Insurance received about 180,000 claims from March 2020 to March 2021. Over 6,000 of them were identified as attempted unemployment fraud, according to division director Darryl Scott.
“In the past, those cases have been in the hundreds,” he said.
Most attempts at unemployment fraud are nixed when employees or employers receive a letter in the mail confirming a claim has been filed and report it as fraud. The Division of Unemployment Insurance also uses data analytics to identify suspicious patterns.
They’re also using information from other states’ investigations to identify potential fraud, such as the widespread identity theft scheme Maryland identified in July 2020.
The division’s parent agency, the Department of Labor, invested in more staff to focus on fraud this year. About 25 new employees have been added to ramp up investigations.
Despite the increased manpower, the attempted fraud cases continue to slow down the distribution of benefits to the legitimately unemployed.
“There are more people we have to look at for overpayments and fraud,” Scott said. “So we have a backlog.”
Delaware State Police warned in an April 12 news release of the increase in unemployment fraud-related identity thefts.
They recommend citizens carefully check their mail for letters from the Department of Labor and report any fraudulent unemployment attempts.
That mail could come from any state. Barbara Kruppa of Magnolia received a letter from Illinois unemployment offices indicating someone was attempting to use her identity to get unemployment benefits. She’s never been to Illinois.
“State systems are under attack by organized criminal groups and others who are using information stolen in past data breaches in other systems to collect benefits fraudulently across multiple states,” the Internal Revenue Service website says. “State workforce agencies are facing unprecedented demand for unemployment benefits while simultaneously combatting these criminal attacks.”
Criminals are also utilizing phishing scams to steal others’ personal information. Phishing occurs when someone is tricked into providing information, usually by a fake text message, email or website that mimics an official agency like the Department of Labor.
Another indicator of unemployment fraud is 1099-G forms, which are mailed to unemployment benefit recipients to file with their taxes. If the amount of benefits the form indicates were issued to you is incorrect, it is likely a sign of unemployment fraud and should be reported.
If you suspect you are a victim of unemployment fraud, you should report it to these three agencies:
- Your local police department
- Department of Labor, by calling 302-761-8397 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
- Department of Justice.
Taking steps to prevent identity theft could significantly lower your chances of becoming a victim of unemployment fraud. Delaware State Police recommend the following:
- Be aware of your digital footprint and take continual steps to secure your online presence.
- Remember to change passwords frequently and do not use your birthdate, 1234, etc., as a password; use secure internet connections; only enter your personal or credit card information into a secured site (a padlock will be located in the search bar).
- Be aware of fake websites, social media pages, text messages, phone calls and emails soliciting your personal information and do not respond to them. Do not click on links in unsolicited emails or text messages.
- You may be at greater risk of identity theft if you are a known victim of a prior data breach. Take advantage of any credit monitoring offered due to these exposures.
- Monitor your bank account and credit regularly. Consider using additional credit monitoring applications such as Lifelock, MyIDCare or PrivacyArmor.