How to Not Help an International Crime Ring in 2 Easy Steps
This story, like a lot of stories lately, begins with a pandemic. Before we start abusing the word “unprecedented,” let’s keep it simple. The COVID-19 pandemic closed businesses. This sparked a flood of unemployment. A very large number of people found themselves without work and needing assistance. It’s ok to be tired of hearing all this bad news. Most people are. We are truly in unprecedented times.
International crime rings, including a Nigerian group called Scattered Canary, saw an opportunity. In a haste to get unemployment benefits checks out the door, states rushed unemployment claims. A large number of stolen identities have been used to collect unemployment checks.
Since no COVID-19 pandemic story would complete without some abstractly large numbers, here they are. There have been 420,000 unemployment claims in Colorado since the pandemic.1 The Colorado Department of Labor has flagged 5,600 of these as fraudulent and stopped $36 million in unemployment fraud.2 False claims are widespread across the country. Washington state was hit with up to $650 million in fraudulent payouts. So far, only $333 million of that has been recovered.3
Those who need their unemployment benefits discover that they are already being claimed. The whole system gets delayed with extra claims, and lots of taxpayer money ends up in the hands of bad people. There are a couple of steps you can take to protect both yourself and society at large.
Step 1. Sharing is NOT Caring
There are things we just shouldn’t share. Imagine this. You get a call from a stranger. They ask you to reveal that super embarrassing event from middle school, you know, that memory that still stresses you out to this day… Yeah, that one. Imagine how protective you would be. Try to treat your sensitive information with the same level of protection. Know that people looking to get this information are trying to hurt you. Be careful who you trust.
Your trust will be the first thing scammers will try to get, and they can be very good at gaining it. They will often be under the guise of someone you already trust. This could be a government agency, your financial institution, or someone you know. They can disguise emails, phone calls, and text messages. Scammers can convince people to give up enough information to make an unemployment claim.
Step 2. Don’t Be a Mule
Before accusing me of rude name calling, understand that I’m talking about money mules. This is someone who helps transfer stolen money to fraudsters, often unknowingly. Be suspicious of anything too good to be true. You should never have to send money for a job, or to collect a prize. Scammers commonly pose as an online love interest. Just don’t send money to strangers. True love can wait until you’ve met in person.
Anytime a stranger wants to give you money and have you send some of it back, it’s a scam. They will usually want gift cards, pre-paid debit cards, or wire transfers. You can end up on the hook for money sent or stolen. Never agree to accept the unemployment benefits of someone else. These scammers don’t care if you’re caught. The U.S. Secret Service is investigating these false claims.
What to do if you spot a scam:
- Stop communicating with the scammer
- Report it to StopColoradoFraud.gov
- If you see something suspicious on your account, call us at 303-573-1170