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Unemployment insurance fraud is growing in Illinois. Here’s what you need to know

Chicago Tribune logo Chicago Tribune 1/20/2021 Abdel Jimenez, Chicago Tribune
a group of people sitting at a desk looking at a computer screen: The Illinois Department of Employment Security office in Springfield on Sept. 29, 2016. © Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/TNS The Illinois Department of Employment Security office in Springfield on Sept. 29, 2016.

State and federal officials are encouraging Illinoisans to stay vigilant as reports of unemployment insurance fraud swell.

From the onset of coronavirus pandemic, fraudulent claims have been an issue as a record number of Illinois residents file for benefits and Congress provides additional jobless aid. Illinois has stopped more than 350,000 fraudulent claims since March 1, according to the state’s Department of Employment Security.

Reports of fraud have been so widespread — often inundating local police departments — that the FBI, IRS and several state agencies launched a task force to tackle the problem.

The Illinois Attorney General’s office has received more than 1,400 complaints since June from people who allege someone else filed an unemployment insurance claim in their name, spokeswoman Tori Joseph said.

Here’s what to be on the lookout for and what steps to take.

How do I know if I’m a victim of fraud?

The most common form of unemployment fraud is when people who have not filed for benefits receive a letter from the state saying a claim has been filed under their name and the letter contains an unloaded debit card.

An employer also might receive a letter from the state unemployment agency saying an employee has filed for benefits when that person is still employed.

People are also made aware when they try to file a claim online and are told one already exists under their name.

Why did I receive a debit card?

Illinois distributes debit cards in case people want to load their unemployment benefits onto the card rather than have the funds deposited into their bank accounts, according to the department.

The state adopted the procedure in order to quickly process benefits during the pandemic and avoid having to send a debit card separately. The department urges victims to not activate the debit card or contact the issuer of the card, KeyBank.

What steps should I take to protect myself?

Victims should immediately report the fraudulent claims to the state’s unemployment agency by submitting a form online or calling 800-814-0513.

State and federal officials recommend victims of unemployment fraud and data breaches monitor and place a freeze on their credit reports, which prohibits the report from being shared with potential creditors. Credit freezes are free.

People have to contact each of the major credit bureaus to place a credit freeze either through mail, telephone or online. For each case, the person has to provide name, Social Security number, date of birth, home address, proof of current address and a photocopy of a government-issued identification card, which includes a driver’s license or military identification. Contact Equifax at 1-800-525-6285, Experian at 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742), TransUnion at 1-800-680-7289 and Innovis at 1-800-540-2505.

It is recommended victims request a fraud alert, which tells businesses to check with you before opening a new account, from at least one of the big credit bureaus.

Victims can get a free credit report via www.annualcreditreport.com. Through April, everyone can get a free weekly credit report from the three major credit reporting agencies, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

State officials encourage victims to file a police report in case the person needs proof of the crime when dealing with creditors. Victims also should check their banks for unusual activity.

Am I responsible for funds paid to fraudsters?

No. The state has said anyone who has been a victim of unemployment fraud is not liable for benefits paid in their name. Most fraudulent claims are caught before they are paid out, according to the department.

What if I need to file for benefits?

Anyone who becomes unemployed after being the victim of unemployment fraud can still apply for benefits. According to the state agency’s website, the department will be able to distinguish a legitimate claim from a fraudulent one.

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