Scammers using texts to target unemployment benefits

This screenshot from the Federal Trade Commission shows the kind of alarming texts people are receiving from scammers trying to steal their unemployment benefits. Click to enlarge. (Courtesy Federal Trade Commission)

You look on your phone and see an urgent text that says: “We’ve noticed there’s an error in your unemployment claim. Click on this link.” Do not click on that link because it’s probably a scam.

The Federal Trade Commission is warning that identity thieves are targeting millions of people nationwide with scam phishing texts to steal their personal information — and their unemployment benefits.

Fraudulent unemployment claims by organized crime rings using stolen identities have surged in states across the country. In June, Maryland alone reported that it’s flagged 1.3 million fraudulent claims since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

The FTC said that criminals are sending out millions of alarming text messages from what appears to be a state workforce agency. If you click on the link in the text to “verify” your information or fix your claim, you’ll be taken to a website that may indeed look like your state’s workforce website.

But if you enter personal information such as a Social Security number, you may have your identity — and your benefits — stolen.

The FTC said that state agencies do not send text messages asking for personal information. If you receive an unsolicited text or email message that looks like it’s from your state, do not reply or click any links.

If you think you may have entered your personal information into a fraudulent website, the FTC suggests visiting IdentityTheft.gov to find out how to make it harder for an identity thief to misuse that information.

You can report a suspicious text or email to the National Center for Disaster Fraud by completing a NCDF Complaint Form. You can call the center at 866-720-5721 or email the FTC via the ReportFraud.ftc.gov website as well.

The agency recommends telling friends about your experience to help others avoid the same scam.

WTOP’s Chris Cruise contributed to this report.

Anna Gawel

Anna Gawel joined WTOP in 2020 and works in both the radio and digital departments. Anna Gawel has spent much of her career as the managing editor of The Washington Diplomat, which has been the flagship publication of D.C.’s diplomatic community for over 25 years.

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