By LaVonne Olsen
The coronavirus pandemic has led to a widespread health and economic crisis. Amidst the chaos, a global network of criminals is taking full advantage of personal data collected through various data breaches over the last few years, as well as from new security vulnerabilities. From traditional scams, such as phishing attempts or opening fraudulent credit cards and bank accounts, to more sophisticated schemes like unemployment fraud, if you suspect you are the victim of a financial crime, here are six steps you should take immediately.
Step 1 – Contact your Company’s HR Department. If an unemployment claim has been filed under your name, your company’s HR department will receive a notification from the Washington State Employment Security Department (ESD). Ideally, your company has a process in place to notify current employees of such claims. If not, and you suspect you have been targeted, check with your HR department to verify if a claim has been fraudulently submitted in your name. Your company can take steps to resolve the issue with ESD on your behalf.
Step 2 – Contact the Washington State Employment Security Department (ESD). If your employer already has reported a fraudulent unemployment claim in your name, you don’t need to report it again. However, ESD offers additional useful resources to help you report identity theft and get a recovery plan in place.
Step 3 – File a Police Report. You can file an online or non-emergency report with your local police department. Be sure to keep a file folder or journal with the information from this incident, including case numbers, copies of emails, and all other notes. This is the paper trail you can reference if you face any identity issues or see inaccuracies in your credit reports down the line.
Step 4 – Contact the Three Major Credit Bureaus. It is important to report the fraud to all three credit bureaus. Notify them that a fraudulent claim was made using your identity and provide them with the case number from your police report. You can have a fraud alert put on your identity or freeze your credit. Doing either is free by law, and a fraud alert will make it harder for someone to open new accounts in your name. To place a fraud alert, contact one of the three credit bureaus. That company must tell the other two.
Step 5 – File with FTC and IRS. The website, IdentityTheft.gov, managed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), provides instructions for filing a report. You should also consider setting up an IRS account. If you create an account with your Social Security number, it will prevent criminals from creating an account using your identity. Another option is to lock your Social Security number (the next wave of this cyber-attack may be IRS tax fraud). Be sure to claim your stimulus payment from the government if you have not yet received it.
Step 6 – Contact Your Financial Institutions. Make sure you notify all your financial institutions, including those managing your retirement and investment accounts, that you are the target of a fraud scam and take necessary precautions to protect your account. Your bank will also be able to provide you with guidance and support.
Finding out you are a victim of identity theft can feel extremely invasive no matter how much you have prepared or how much awareness you have of the issue. We hope the steps outlined above are helpful. You are always welcome to contact us here at Peoples Bank for a free consultation. We have a red flag reporting process designed to protect customers’ accounts, and we maintain a Fraud Investigations Department to stay ahead of rapidly evolving fraud and scam methods. If you have any questions, please let us know.
LaVonne Olsen is Senior Vice President, Human Resources Director at Peoples Bank. Peoples Bank is a locally owned and operated, independent full-service community bank with 23 branches throughout Washington. Find your local branch and learn more at peoplesbank-wa.com.