There is no doubt about it. Identity theft issues seem to be on the same trajectory as the COVID pandemic. In a typical month, SWP usually has one or two clients who alert us about some identity breach they have personally experienced. However, in the last two months, we have received one or two alerts per week from clients, which has definitely caught our attention.
One of the newer frauds being reported is when an imposter files for state unemployment benefits using your name and other personal information even though you have never applied for these benefits. In fact, in Illinois, the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) estimates it has received over 200,000 false unemployment claims since March. Many of our clients learn about this breach when debit cards arrive by mail claiming to be preloaded with benefit money. Alternatively, they receive a letter from IDES about the acceptance or rejection of an unemployment filing.
Every state has procedures to report someone using your identity to collect unemployment benefits. In Illinois, we advise that you immediately report any such fraud to IDES at 800-814-0513 (option #1 for Claimant and then option #5 for identity theft) and do not use the debit cards or dispose of them. In Wisconsin, you can report this type of fraud to the DWD here or call the Fraud Hotline at 800-909-9472. We have developed a full set of action steps to follow in the event you are the victim of this form of identity theft, so please feel free to contact us so we can share this information.
Just like wearing a mask or washing your hands can help protect you from the virus, there are steps you can take to make it harder for you to be a victim of identity theft. Use strong and unique passwords, freeze your credit at all three credit agencies, and regularly request copies of your credit report to ensure all reported activity is legitimate.
We also want to share one new important step that we encourage all clients to consider, even if you have never been a victim of identity theft. Please contact your insurance agent for your homeowner’s policy and ask what identity theft protection you have included in your policy and if you can add a “cybersecurity rider” to your existing policy. While policy benefits are different with each insurance carrier, we hope that this new rider will entitle you to more benefits and provide you with more resources should you experience a breach.
There are many parallels between COVID and identity theft right now. Both seem to be growing exponentially and both can be mitigated by taking certain precautions. As we develop additional actions that you can take to reduce your risk of identity theft, we will be sure to let you know.
SWP continues to post important information on how to reduce your risk of identity theft on our website. See the below links to past articles about this topic.
In the meantime, it is safest to be proactive wherever you can!