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Scam Squad: How to protect yourself if your identity is used for unemployment fraud

Updated: Mar. 3, 2021 at 10:33 PM EST
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - It’s estimated that since last March, $63-Billion has been paid out nationwide for fraudulent claims related to Pandemic Unemployment programs. That’s according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Inspector General.

Here in Ohio, there have been hundreds of thousands of identity theft victims whose names were used in those fraudulent claims. Among the victims Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, his wife Fran Lieutenant Governor Jon Husted, journalists, police officers, and state employees.

In this Scam Squad report, Cleveland 19 has learned that laid-off restaurant worker Holly Brown says her children were among the identity theft victims, her 7th-grade daughter Summer and 22-year-old son Joseph who lives in a group home and has disabilities. Both have never worked.

“My 14-year-old daughter someone had applied for unemployment by using her name, saying she was an employer, their employer which she definitely wasn’t. And then somebody filled out on my 22-year-old son claiming he was unemployed due to the pandemic,” Brown said.

A Tsunami of fraud, as ODJFS employee described it. Hundreds of thousands of people received a letter from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services giving them a PIN number for pandemic unemployment accounts they did not set up. A clear indication, authorities say that they are victims of identity theft.

Since mid-January, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services says 177,000 Ohioans have reported identity theft to their office. 8900 businesses or employers have also submitted fraud reports. Information that will be handed over to the Department of Labor’s Inspector General.

So, what can you do if you’re a victim of unemployment fraud?

First, log on to www.unemployment.ohio.gov. Click on the red button that says, “report identity theft,” then scroll down to the bottom of the screen and click on “report identity theft – individuals or employer.” Fill out the form that follows, which will require your social security number, a driver’s license number or state ID, and your email. Within minutes you will receive a confirmation by email that the crime has been reported.

If you don’t have a computer or would prefer to call the HOTLINE to file your fraud report:

1-833-658-0394.

Second, there’s guidance on the website on how to file your taxes if you’ve received a 1099 form in the mail that says you’ve received unemployment funds that you, in fact didn’t.

Next: Log on to www.AmericanCreditReport.com to obtain a free credit report and consider putting a fraud alert on your account, unless you are in the process of buying a home and/or vehicle.

Another important tip: Change your passwords. A spokesperson for Ohio Job and Family Services says it’s possible all the data breaches in the last few years could have been when identity theft thieves were able to grab your personal information.

But for Brown, an Ohio mother, laid-off for nearly a year due to the pandemic, she’s fed up with greedy thieves who have not only stolen her children’s identities Brown, a laid-off worker herself, is angry that greedy thieves have not only stolen her children’s identities -- BUT delayed money her family and others truly need.

“It’s dirty; it’s ignorant. Like I hope they catch these people I really do. Because people that frauded the government, they need to be charged,” Brown said.

Cleveland 19 is teaming up with the experts Thursday, March 3rd. If you think you’ve been taken by thieves, it’s your chance to fight back with the help of the pros. Be sure to watch and participate in our live call-in show starting tomorrow at 5 and taking calls until 6 pm.

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