Scheme targets people’s unemployment benefits by using data stolen during breaches, investigators say


RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – The Secret Service said hundreds of millions of dollars intended for those who lost their jobs during the pandemic is instead going into the pockets of crooks. North Carolina is one of the states being targeted.

For many, the first indication that something is wrong comes when trying to file for benefits.

Stephanie D’ercole found herself out of work and applying for unemployment. When she did, a message appeared on a government website, saying her social security number is already being used to file a claim.

“I’ve never filed for unemployment before,” she told CBS News.

Officials are blaming a “well-organized Nigerian Fraud ring.” The Secret Service said the ring has targeted unemployment benefits in North Carolina and in about six other states around the country.

“Whether you are an organized fraud ring, such as the case with unemployment identity theft occurring on a massive scale at the state level, those organized rings are doing cyber attacks,” said Eva Valesquez. He is the president of the Identity Theft Resource Center.

Investigators said most of the information used by criminals to steal unemployment benefits dates back to the numerous date breaches from 2017. That includes the Equifax breach that exposed birthdays, social security numbers, addresses, and more.

The Identity Theft Resource Center said the ring doesn’t stop at unemployment benefits. It said identity thieves may also apply for other benefits in people’s names, including: federal nutritional assistance programs, WIC and SNAP benefits, and medical coverage.

The North Carolina Department of Commerce said it “cannot comment on any potential or ongoing fraud investigation.” Spokesperson Larry Parker also said it is “bringing in additional staffing, upgrading technologies, providing additional training and enhancing communications.”

Anyone victimized by this situation can consult the United States Department of Labor. It offers online resources and a fraud hotline. The Identity Theft Resource Center also offers help to anyone who needs it.

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