International Crime Ring Targeting U.S. Unemployment Systems

Washington state has been hit the hardest, with other’s sure to follow.

A global pandemic means everyone on planet earth knows about COVID-19 and its effects on industries across the world. The Identity Theft Resource Center says for scammers – this is like the Super Bowl, the World Series, the World Cup, and the NBA finals all rolled into one. And now, federal unemployment benefits are their next victims.

As all states struggle with an extraordinary spike of jobless claims amid the coronavirus pandemic, cyber criminals are targeting unemployment sites with fraudulent claims to illegally funnel money, according to the U.S. Secret Service. More than 36 million Americans have filed for first time unemployment benefits since early March as stay-at-home orders force businesses to shut down, leading to layoffs across the nation. In the meantime, state departments have become completely overwhelmed due to the high demand, limited staffing, and out-of-date unemployment websites – and criminals are making the most out of this chaos.

The attackers have used detailed information about U.S. citizens, such as social security numbers, banking information and more that may have been collected during past cyber-attacks, to file claims on behalf of people who have not been laid off, officials said. These attacks have capitalized on state unemployment systems at a time when they are drowning in claims to process from an employment crisis unrivaled since the Great Depression.

The Secret Service dispersed a memo last week cautioning officials that these criminals seem to be connected to a Nigerian crime ring and may have already stolen hundreds of millions of dollars, security researcher Brian Krebs reported. The memo said the scammers were primarily targeting Washington state, as well as North Carolina, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Florida, and Wyoming. The Washington state agency that oversees unemployment started to comprehend the degree of the fraud last week, when people who are still employed started to call and ask why they had received confirmation of unemployment benefits, according to The New York Times.

Using stolen credentials to fraudulently file for unemployment is just one of the tricks they use, while also reportedly recruiting “money mules,” or people who transfer illegally obtained money on behalf of others to disrupt the paper trail, according to the Secret Service. The Agency is warning states to remain on high alert for fraud schemes, warning that every state could be susceptible.

On top of the current pandemonium we are all experiencing, being on the lookout for fraudsters is now on the forefront of our minds. It is pivotal to be able to identify scams that might try to contact you by phone or email, pretending to be able to help in some way. Hawley & Associates cares deeply for our clients, employees and community which is why we have compiled this guide on steps to take if you or someone you know falls victim to the current unemployment scam or any other type of identity theft.

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