The Unemployment Benefits Claim Surprise: The Hidden Cyber Scam


Thinking it junk mail, I almost threw out a notice from our state’s unemployment office. I’ve been lucky enough to remain employed throughout the pandemic. The form letter describes benefits I allegedly received.

Is this intended for someone with my same name, a clerical error created by a transposed number, social security number, or some sort of scam?


Actions to take immediately

If you haven’t yet called your state’s unemployment agency, do so immediately. Although it might be an error, a scammer may have used your identity to file a false claim.

Let your employer’s human resources officer or chief operating officer know as well. I’d suggest you contact the individual in your organization’s records department and advise him or her of the issue, except if there’s been identity theft of some sort, that individual might have been involved.

Next, contact the three major credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian and Transunion, and place a fraud alert on your account. If someone has stolen your identity, you want to get ahead of the problem. Similarly, contact your bank, credit card company and any financial institutions where you have retirement or trading accounts.

If you discover you have been the victim of identity theft, you may also want to contact the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) and follow FTC guidance for reporting identity theft (

The fraudulent unemployment benefits cyber scam

During the pandemic, multiple unemployment offices were hit by a fraudulent unemployment benefits cyber scam. Scammers simply needed individuals’ names, date of birth, employer, social security number and in some cases, driver license numbers.

Scammers received hundreds of millions of dollars by filing claims using the personal information of individuals who hadn’t lost jobs. Their actions overwhelmed governmental agencies that were understaffed and busy processing the 53 million unemployment claims filed during the initial months of the coronavirus pandemic.

Many agencies were also hamstrung because they were using outdated fraud detection protocols and technology. This resulted in chaos and delays.

While formerly unemployment agencies sent timely notices to employers enabling them to protest false claims, overwhelmed unemployment offices sent notices out late. Some arrived at employers’ desks after the time to protest false claims had expired.

Further, many employers, focused on other pandemic-related issues, weren’t vigilant. Employers need to flag any unemployment notices they receive and notify both the affected individual employee and the unemployment office. Instead of reviewing incoming unemployment claims and challenging false ones, some employers simply placed the paperwork into files.  

Affected individuals often don’t realize that scammers have used their identity until they received notices from unemployment offices about the applications they supposedly filed for benefits. Meanwhile, if you’re working from home, update your cyber-security protocols.


Lynne Curry, Ph.D., SPHR, is the author of “Beating the Workplace Bully” (AMACOM, 2016, and “Solutions”, (both books are rated 4.8 out of 5 stars on Send your questions to her at or follow her on twitter @lynnecurry10.

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