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Fraudulent unemployment claims are spiking: Is someone masquerading as you this holiday season?

It starts with an alert from your credit card company about a newly opened account. Then, perhaps you receive a distressing notice from your bank or other financial institution. Shortly after, your phone sends you a text notification about an unemployment claim you didn’t make. You might also be receiving a barrage of instant messages from existing connections on social media telling you they’ve received a new connection request from you. The next thing you know, reality has set in that you’ve been a victim of identity theft.

Recent media coverage has highlighted an increase in fraudulent unemployment claims and no state has been untouched by this type of identity theft. Unfortunately, with the continuing COVID-19 pandemic and the holiday season upon us, identity theft isn’t slowing down anytime soon.

What happens now?

In addition to the emotional distress of being a victim of identity theft, there are also short and long-term problems that could occur. As an identity theft victim, you could find yourself spending hours writing credit card companies, contacting your state’s Department of Labor, calling merchants and spending time on hold with credit bureaus waiting to report the crime.

Who is most at risk?

Most identity theft consists of crimes of opportunity. Identity thieves often target those who don’t regularly check for identity theft warning signs and are unlikely to report irregular activity on their credit reports. According to ConsumerAffairs.com, almost no one is exempt from a  the threat of  identity theft:

  • ANYONE using social media – It’s relatively easy for cybercriminals to discover your name, date of birth, phone number, hometown and other sensitive information used in password creation through social media and networking platforms.
  • Your kids, grandkids, nieces, nephews and other young family members – Children are targeted because identity thieves can use a child’s Social Security number without immediately being detected. Identity theft experts recommend parents monitor their children’s credit reports to check for identity theft as often as their own.
  • Older adults – Seniors are targeted most often over the telephone and through internet phishing scams. This generation tends to be more trusting, making it more difficult for older adults to detect fraudsters.
  • Men and women in the armed services – Active duty members of the armed services are particularly vulnerable to identity theft because they may not notice mistakes on their credit reports or receive calls from debt collectors regarding a fraudulent charge.
  • Repeat victims – People who have previously been affected by identity theft are at a greater risk for future identity theft and fraud.

What can you do?

While identity theft can happen to anyone, here are some of the safeguards  recommended  to reduce your risk:

  • Knowledge is power – Understand that identity theft is not a hypothetical threat that “happens to someone else more important.” Keeping tabs on your financial accounts and setting up alerts provided by a merchant or financial institution is critical.
  • Get a copy of your credit report – You can receive a copy at com for free. Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion must provide you with a free copy of your credit report every 12 months (upon request). This helps you to identify any accounts that were set up in your name that you did not apply for or authorize.
  • Secure your home network – As many Americans continue to work remotely, strong passwords and encryption are one of the best ways to secure your home network. If you haven’t, change your home network’s default administrator password before a hacker discovers the manufacturer’s default.
  • Access denied! – Avoid giving anyone an opportunity to view confidential material without your knowledge. Be sure to shut down or lock your work computer when you aren’t around – even at home. It’s too easy for friends and family to erase, modify or infect information on your device accidentally.
  • Be careful where you click – As always, hover over links before you click to make sure the hyperlink is the same as the link-to address. Make the sender give you a good and safe reason to click on a link or to even open the email. When in doubt, go directly to the website and contact the sender directly via official phone numbers or emails provided on their site.
  • Protect your devices – If you haven’t already, make sure that you have an anti-virus and anti-malware software on your mobile and home electronic devices – especially if you’re accessing important information through it.

If you think someone is using your personal information to open accounts, file taxes, or make purchases, visit IdentityTheft.gov to report and recover from identity theft. For identity theft resources you can share with your friends, family and colleagues, visit ftc.gov/idtheft and umb.com/security.

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