Tens of thousands of Illinois residents have applied for unemployment insurance benefits, but it's the people who haven't that need to beware
Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul is urging residents throughout Illinois to be on alert for signs of identity theft related to unemployment insurance, including pre-paid debit cards issued by KeyBank.
Raoul’s office has received dozens of complaints from people throughout the state who learned that someone applied for unemployment insurance benefits in their name.
“People should be on the lookout for a letter approving them for unemployment benefits they never requested, because it likely means that an identity thief applied for benefits using their name and Social Security number,” Raoul said.
He should know, because he received one himself.
“They're not in lonely company you know. I myself was a recipient of a such a card so I had to also take some steps,” he said.
He warns the combination of the pandemic and increased time on the internet could be the perfect recipe for fraud.
“If they're not careful enough they may be sharing some information or giving folks access to ways to get more information on them, and so unfortunately it happens to the best of us, you know. So, it's important to take steps,” he said.
The scam has also gained the attention of Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker.
“Federal authorities have informed states that your personal identifying information may likely have been obtained in prior breaches of corporations or other databases like the massive Equifax hack, that means it’s possible that your personal identifying information was used in this scheme,” he said last Wednesday during a press conference. “This is a problem being experienced across the country, because the national program was poorly designed and susceptible to fraud.”
The issue has been seen nationwide. Alan Silberlight of Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania reached out to NBC 5 Responds to let us know that not only did he not request the unemployment benefits, he’s never even worked in the state of Illinois.
Then there’s Pam Kelleher of Glen Ellyn who saw our story last week and reached out with concern her two young sons might be victims of identity theft after they both received cards last week.
"One is 21 and one is 19, (and) neither of the kids has been able to get a hold of IDES,” she said. “We are not sure where they would have gotten the boys Social Security numbers.”
Both tell NBC5 Responds they have tried repeatedly to report the fraud to the Illinois Department of Employment Security, to no avail. Both say multiple phone calls to IDES and its hotline have gotten them nowhere. These complaints mirror others NBC5 Responds covered since the beginning of the pandemic.
We asked AG Raoul if, given the consumers’ frustration, IDES has his faith to fully investigate the fraud.
“Yes, because they’re not doing it alone,” Raoul told us. “They will have collaboration with our office, along with other law enforcement.”
Raoul says it’s still not known, but likely, that fraudsters are filing for the debit cards, then will attempt to fish them out of mailboxes before unsuspecting recipients know. Another possibility includes thieves waiting until the debit cards are used to then try to hack into the bank accounts.
What is known: this scam is surging. Any potential victim who receives an unsolicited card is being asked to contact local authorities and the Illinois Department of Employment Security at 800-814-0513. They can also contact the Illinois Attorney General’s office. Raoul urges all affected to take steps to guard against identity theft, including monitoring their credit.
“We don't know what the scammers endgame is yet. Investigators are still trying to catch up with that,” Raoul said. “The types of fraud that we deal with these days, generally, particularly when they can come from all places, internationally, as vigilant as we try to be with investigations we may not get to the entire route of fraud because it's difficult because you know, with web access and, and, and how everything is done, virtually electronically now.”