Local authorities work to handle unemployment identity thefts

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Sheriff’s Department spokesman Ed Troyer among those victimized

By Matt Nagle

matt@tacomaweekly.com

As if the state Employment Security Department didn’t already have enough on its plate dealing with the more than one million unemployment claims since the coronavirus hit, now it is being forced to tackle an outbreak of fraudulent claims made through identity theft. 

Since the beginning of this month, the ESD has been experiencing a dramatic rise in incidents of “imposter fraud,” where an individual using stolen personal information fraudulently applies for unemployment benefits. It’s happening across the country as well. In response, our state ESD has taken numerous steps, including holding payments for one to two days to validate all claims as authentic and asking claimants to verify certain information. Reports are that so far the state has paid $1.6 million in fraudulent claims.

The ESD is working with law enforcement, other states, financial institutions and the U.S. Department of Labor to detect and prevent such fraud.The department also plans to hire more fraud investigators.ESD Commissioner Suzi LeVine and Washington StateInsurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler have reached out to insurance companies in our state for skilled and experienced adjudicators to help process and investigate the historic volume of claims being filed. 

U.S. Attorney for Western Washington Brian Moran told KING 5 news that ESD needs to “fix the vulnerabilities in their system,” but would not elaborate on his statement.

It is being reported that a sophisticated network of overseas scammers in Nigeria are to blame, with the Secret Service identifying Washington state as the prime target, according to the New York Times and other media outlets.

Tacoma Police Department Public Information Officer Wendy Haddow said that reports of fraudulent unemployment claims for Tacoma alone are coming in daily and are up to nearly 200. 

“This doesn’t count other local agencies like University Place, Lakewood…so it’s on a very large scale across the state,” she said.

It seems that no one is safe from the fraud operation. “First responders at all levels, city workers, teachers, doctors, nurses, garbage workers, store employees – it’s everybody being victimized by this,” Haddow said.

You don’t have to already be in the unemployment system for the scammers to find you. Pierce County Sheriff’s Department public information officer, and candidate for county sheriff, Ed Troyer is one of the victims who has no link to the unemployment office. Like others who have been targeted, he checked his mailbox last week and found nearly a dozen letters from the unemployment department about a claim he supposedly filed. 

“I’ve never been on unemployment in my entire life,” he said, yet somehow his personal information was found and used against him. “I watch my credit, I monitor my information – I do everything right and I still became a victim.” 

Haddow said that due to the number of reports that the Tacoma Police Department is getting, currently the department is not allowing online reporting but are instead being taken by officers. Whether you are contacting Tacoma police or police in another jurisdiction, Haddow listed four pieces of information that people need to include in their report: the last four digits of their Social Security number, their employer name, the letter number from the unemployment office and the claim number from the unemployment office. 

“All of those need to be in each of the reports,” she said. “Our agency is going through those reports to make sure they have all that information and they’re being forwarded to the federal task force that’s investigating them. They’re dealing with hundreds and hundreds of claims so it will just slow the process down for the investigation if each report doesn’t have that information in it.”

For Troyer, he had to do what every other victimized citizen must do: report it to police as identity theft. He said that getting a case number is important in the event that the criminals repeat their identity theft crime at a later time or in a different fashion.

“In my job, I always come across heinous crimes and I always feel for the victims. This sure gives me more empathy,” the sheriff’s department veteran said. “When my car was stolen, and I deal with this stuff everyday, I felt what it was like. Now that I’m a victim of identity theft, I know what that’s like and it’s not a fun deal.”

How to File Your Claim

Law enforcement authorities, including the Tacoma Police Department, recommend the following steps for anyone who believes they are a victim of unemployment fraud, which is identity theft:

  • Contact your employer’s human resources department to report the incident.
  • Contact the Washington State Employment Security Department at (800) 246-9763. Wait times can be extremely long; you may also file online at https://fortress.wa.gov/esd/webform/ContactUS/. You will need the following information for identity verification:
  • Last four digits of your Social Security number
  • Date of birth
  • Address
  • Current phone number
  • Information on how you learned a claim was filed using your identity
  • File a police report with the agency within whose jurisdiction you live. Identity theft reports within Pierce County can be reported by calling (253) 798-4721. You will be directed to the appropriate jurisdiction in which you live.
  • Obtain free credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion at www.annualcreditreport.com or by calling (877) 322-8228.  Review the reports to see if there are any accounts or hard inquiries that you did not make or open. Report that you have been a victim of identity theft.  Report that a fraudulent claim was made using your identity and provide the case number from your police report. You can have a fraud alert put on your identity or freeze your credit. A fraud alert is free and will help make it more difficult for someone to open new accounts in your name. To place a fraud alert, contact one of the three credit bureaus (each bureau must report the information to the other two bureaus). Contact information is as follows:         
  • Experian (888) 397-3742
  • TransUnion (800) 680-7289
  • Equifax (888) 766-0008
  • If you are a confirmed victim of identity theft, check your credit activity, initially at least every 90 days. As a victim of identity theft, you have the right to check it monthly if you choose.
  • Credit Freeze – If you do not have upcoming large purchases, like a home, you may choose to freeze your credit for further protection. This is a free service available at www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0497-credit-freeze-faqs.
  • File a report with the Federal Trade Commission and give them the case number from your police report by visiting www.identitytheft.gov. Additional information can be found at www.ftc.gov/idtheft.
  • Consider setting up an Internal Revenue Service account at www.irs.gov/payments/view-your-tax-account. If you create an account with your social security number, it can help prevent criminals from creating a new account using your identity. 
  • Consider locking your social security number at www.e-verify.gov/employees. The next wave of fraudulent behavior may be IRS tax fraud.
  • Start a file containing all documentation pertaining to the identity theft. Keep any notes, copies of emails, etc. You can reference this paper trail if you face any identity issues with creditors, etc., or locate inaccuracies on your credit history in the future. You can also obtain a copy of your police report at www.SouthSound911.org. Some government services and accommodations are available to victims of identity theft that are not available to the general public, such as having certain public records sealed.

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