How to Find Out and What To Do If Someone Fraudulently Filed for Unemployment Under Your Name

An international ring of criminals is defrauding American unemployment benefits systems around the country as millions of claims are being made during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The United States Secret Service is investigating a "multi-million dollar fraud scheme led by a criminal organization with ties to Nigeria targeting the unemployment insurance system," according to a report by CBS News Monday.

"We will track down every lead we have and prosecute those that we can," Roy Dotson Jr., supervisory special agent with the Secret Service, told CBS News. "They just saw the opportunity and seized that opportunity." There have been more than 36 million Americans who have filed for unemployment since the start of the pandemic.

Federal authorities say that millions have already been stolen by this international criminal ring, according to a report by The New York Times Sunday. Dotson told the newspaper that criminals are using "mules" to pull off the operation. The term refers to people, many of whom Dotson says are in the U.S., who connect with the fraud ring and carry out the unemployment fraud.

A Secret Service memo obtained by The New York Times said that "it is assumed the fraud ring behind this possess a substantial [personal identifiable information] database to submit the volume of applications observed thus far." There have been reported fraud claims in Wyoming, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Florida and Washington State.

One Washington retired woman, Liz VandenBerghe, and her husband, who was working, both received letters in their names stating that their unemployment benefits were in progress, even though neither of them applied or are eligible, according to a report Monday by KING 5 News in Seattle.

"Are they going to be able to open accounts in our names because it's out there? So, it is very scary and unnerving, and it just makes me mad," VandenBerghe told the news station.

Suzi LeVine, commissioner of Washington's Employment Security Department, released a statement May 14 saying the department will increase the number of fraud investigators it has and will work with the U.S. Department of Labor to help detect fraud. The agency paid out $1.6 million in fraudulent claims in April after it waived the usual weeklong vetting period for new claims because of the pandemic.

"This is such a difficult and unprecedented time, and unfortunately criminals use situations like these to try and gain advantage," LeVine said in the May 14 statement. The agency will now be holding payments for one to two days to validate claims, and Washingtonians who were defrauded would still be able to collect their unemployment money.

The commissioner also gave resources that victims or suspected victims of fraud could use, such as the Federal Trade Commission identity theft website has contains steps to help safeguard people from further theft. People can also get free credit reports available at the Annual Credit Report website and review those for unfamiliar activities.

Newsweek reached out to the Department of Labor and the Department of Homeland Security for comment, but they did not respond back in time for publication.

The Department of Labor compiled a list of phone numbers and websites for all 50 states that people can contact to report unemployment insurance fraud.

The economic shutdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic sparked an explosion of Americans filing for unemployment benefits, surging to 3.3 million last week—the highest number ever recorded, the Labor Department reported March 26. Alex Edelman/Getty