In recent months, criminal organizations at both the local and international level have been using the identities of U.S. citizens to open accounts and file fraudulent claims for unemployment benefits, exploiting the unprecedented expansion of these benefits provided in response to economic disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. There are many ways that they are doing this, and the schemes range from targeting Medicare, social media, robocalls, and unemployment insurance.
While not all schemes revolve around some form of identity theft, many do. According to Experian, one of the three major credit reporting agencies, here are some telltale signs of identity theft:
• You no longer get your household bills in the mail.
• You’ve been turned down for a loan or credit card.
• You’re being billed for items you didn’t purchase.
• Your financial accounts show charges you don’t recognize.
• Your tax return was rejected.
• Small test charges appear on your credit card statement.
• Your creditors alert you to suspicious activity.
It’s important to keep an eye out and be aware of anything out of the ordinary. There are also steps you can take to protect yourself such as password protecting your devices, never giving out information over the phone, and regularly checking your credit report. For more information and a complete list of ways you can protect yourself, go to Experian.com.
Transunion and Equifax are the other two major credit reporting companies, and they also have information and resources available to help you protect your identity, as well as staff that can help answer your questions. When you contact them, either online or via toll-free phone numbers, ask for a one-year fraud alert to be added to your account. These can be added at no cost and can help you receive alerts if anything changes on your accounts.
If fraud does occur despite your best efforts, there are steps you can take. The first is to review your credit report. You can view it for free at AnnualCreditReport.com, or at one of the three major credit reporting companies mentioned above. They also have support numbers and other contact information so you can contact them in the way you feel most comfortable. The next step is to report theft to law enforcement. The Ohio Attorney General, Ohio State Highway Patrol, and the Federal Trade commissions all have resources available to help protect your identity, as well as to help in the event that it is compromised.
While we all hope to never have to deal with fraud or identity theft, it’s a growing threat, and has been complicated by the pandemic. Hopefully taking these steps and using these resources will help protect you, your identity, and your finances.