FTC warns of ‘large scale’ unemployment fraud scam amid coronavirus pandemic

LOS ANGELES -- The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is warning of a “large-scale scam erupting in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic” involving impostors who are filing claims for unemployment benefits using the personal information of people who have not filed any claims.

According to the FTC, if you have received any notice from your state unemployment benefits office or your employer regarding a supposed application for these benefits, you may have been a victim of this scam.

The FTC recommends that anyone who has been a victim of this fraudulent behavior should:

    In some instances, the FTC says unemployment payments may be sent to the real person instead of the impostor. The criminal may attempt to contact the individual whose information they stole pretending to be a government official and say the funds were sent by mistake.

    “They may pretend to be your state unemployment agency and say the money was sent by mistake. This a money mule scam and participating in one could cause you more difficulties," according to the FTC.

    “If you get benefits you never applied for, report it to your state unemployment agency and ask for instructions,” the FTC said. “Don’t respond to any calls, emails, or text messages telling you to wire money, send cash, or put money on gift cards. Your state agency will never tell you to repay money that way. Anyone who tells you to do those things is a scammer. Every time.”

    Since March, nearly 43 million people nationwide have filed for unemployment aid because of the economic damage of the novel coronavirus.

    Washington officials said Thursday they believe they have recovered about half of the hundreds of millions in unemployment benefits paid to criminals who used stolen identities to file claims during the coronavirus pandemic.

    Employment Security Department Commissioner Suzi LeVine said officials are still working to determine the final amount paid out fraudulently, but they believe it was between $550 million and $650 million. To date, the state has recovered $333 million, she said.

    “We do believe there is still a significant amount we can get back,” she said.

    The Associated Press contributed to this story.