You might have read articles recently (in May 2020) about fraudulent unemployment claims in Washington: The Seattle Times wrote about it here and here, for example. I know I read articles like this and I think “I know they’re saying it’s widespread, but probably I won’t have to worry about it.” That’s wrong – it’s incredibly rampant, and (as of mid-May) it’s still going on. We’ve seen fraudulent claims for ~25% of our employees (one employee with three fraudulent claims so far!), and they’re still coming. I’m hearing the same from other business owners.
More proof: today I went to lock down my own account – even though we haven’t received a claim in my behalf – and boom: fraud. (See below for how I knew.)
Why is this happening? Right (Until?) now, to apply for unemployment in Washington, all someone needs is your name and your Social Security Number, which we know are leaked all over the place – plus an employer name, which, guess what, LinkedIn. (I’m also not confident that you even need to have an accurate employer.) So it’s much, much easier for people to apply for unemployment than to, say, get a credit card in your name. (My credit is locked down – didn’t help here!) This isn’t some new hack: the old ones did just fine.
Why do I care? If someone else is applying for unemployment under your name and SSN, that means if you do need it, you won’t be able to get it – at least not right away, until the fraud is cleared up. So deal with it now, even if you don’t need it.
Can my employer help? They can – employers can let the ESD know that they’ve received a fraudulent claim. But 1) we don’t know how fast those will get processed, 2) you may not know if your employer is doing it (we are), and 3) it may be a previous employer that’s getting the claim – we’re getting claims for previous employees, and we haven’t gotten a claim for me. So do it yourself!
Here’s how you lock down your unemployment account.
- Go to the Employment Security Department home page and sign up for eServices. (If you’ve applied for unemployment before, skip to Step 3.) Create a New Account.
- The signup process is pretty straightforward: it will send you an Activation code in your email, just finish that part.
- Go back to the same page and log in.
- When you log in, choose “For Yourself” and check on your status.
- You’ll be asked to verify your identity: this includes your Social Security Number and some other basic info.
- Here we go: if someone else has already set up an account in your SSN, here’s where you’ll find it.
Look what I found!
It will not surprise you that the domain in that image has been alive for 19 days as of this writing, and is shady in some other ways too.
- If you find fraud in your name, keep that page open, and go to the Employment Security Department Fraud site and report what you found. It’s a simple form: you won’t have a letter ID, so just use the information from this box.
That’s it. Will take five minutes. Go do it.
Update: ESD recommends that you file a police report for identity theft as well. I wouldn’t discourage you from doing that, but because applying for unemployment benefits requires so much less data than obtaining credit (and because the credit facilities have much more sophisticated fraud protection systems in place), my sense is that the vast majority of victims of unemployment fraud won’t be immediate victims of anything else, and the police departments are getting slammed with reports.
A better use of your next five (ok, ten) minutes is to freeze all of your credit reports. Here are the pages to do so for Transunion, Equifax, and Experian. Then any future attempts to get credit under your SSN will be denied – it’s a pain to get approved when you need it, but it’s always doable. This gets beyond the scope of this simple article, though!