STAMFORD – On the day the Connecticut Department of Labor issued a bulletin about a spike in the number of thieves stealing identities and filing fake unemployment claims, a note went out from the director of Human Resources in Stamford.
Al Cava told city employees that between June 23 and that day, July 19, Stamford had 76 unemployment insurance claims with the labor department, and 38 were fraudulent.
Cava’s note included a message from the Department of Labor saying that Connecticut and “eight other state labor agencies in our region and the Midwest are experiencing an uptick in the number of fraudulent unemployment applications we are receiving.”
According to the message, the Connecticut Department of Labor is receiving several thousand claims per day, and officials suspect that about 75 percent are fraudulent. Payment is being withheld on suspect claims.
The message said police departments can expect increased numbers of identity theft reports to be filed by public and private employees across Connecticut.
The Department of Labor reports that criminals are stealing identities by phishing – sending emails or texts that appear to be from legitimate companies to try to get people to reveal credit card numbers, passwords and other personal information. Criminals also steal identities through breaches at retail and other commercial outlets.
There appears to be a particular focus now on using stolen identities to file for unemployment benefits, the labor department reports.
Blame it on the COVID-19 pandemic.
Labor Commissioner Danté Bartolomeo said in the message that Connecticut is among the states “being targeted by criminals who are flooding the unemployment system using stolen identities to file for benefits. During the pandemic, stolen identities were available on the dark web for about one dollar. Criminals are still mining this resource to purchase names, social security numbers, birth dates, and other personal information that they use to apply for credit cards, bank loans, and unemployment benefits.”
The labor department “takes immediate action to notify employers when someone has filed against them; as a result, employers are often the first to know that an identity was stolen,” Bartolomeo said in the statement. “In many cases, that employee still works for them.”
In his note to municipal employees in Stamford, Cava said the city learns about a former employee’s unemployment claim when it gets a notice from the state labor department a few weeks to several months after employment was terminated, depending on when the former employee files.
“The HR department will reach out directly to any employee, retiree, or former employee when we receive notice of an unemployment claim to alert the individual that a claim has been filed,” Cava said in his note. “If the individual did not file the claim, the city will notify the (labor department) and the individual should file” a theft report with the department.
Employees also should file a police report, labor officials said.
Employers have responsibilities, too, they said.
“If an employer receives a notification for an employee who still works for the company, it is an identity-theft red flag. Employers should respond quickly to these notices,” labor officials said in their message.
Filling out a labor department identity theft report helps labor officials “protect the victim’s future unemployment benefits,” labor officials said.
“It’s critical that employers and employees report this fraud to (the labor department) so we can protect benefits and the Trust Fund from fraud,” Bartolomeo, the commissioner, said in his message.
Victims often don’t know their identities were stolen until they receive a notice from the labor department acknowledging a claim, or they receive a 1099 tax form from the IRS, labor officials said.
Employers find out when they get a Notice of Claim Filed form from the labor department.
Cava said in his note that the U.S. Department of Labor, FBI and Secret Service are tracking the spike in fraudulent unemployment insurance claims nationwide.