In recent weeks, the Arkansas Attorney General's Office has received complaints from Arkansans receiving notices that they had applied for unemployment benefits when they had not in fact applied for benefits. In other cases, consumers have received the unemployment funds and are then contacted by the scam artist claiming that a mistake has occurred and asking the consumer to forward the proceeds to them.
"My office has received almost 200 complaints from Arkansans who have had their personal information used to fraudulently apply for unemployment by scam artists," said Attorney General Leslie Rutledge. "We have been working with the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services and financial institutions in order to assist consumers in stopping unlawful payments and preventing additional identity theft."
Searcy County Sheriff Kenny Cassell reported the scam is underway in Searcy County. "States had to adapt quickly to the keep their residents safe from COVID-19 and worked hard to ensure economic resources are easily available. Now, imposters are working hard to avoid work by stealing Arkansans' unemployment benefits."
Chief Deputy Dewayne Piece stated that the sheriff's office has a received a number of complaint call concerning this latest scam. "Some days we receive as many as 2-3 call per day," Pierce added.
Cassell explained the unemployment application process is typically an in-person application process, but the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for social distancing has created a new online procedure that requires only a name, date of birth, social security number, and employer verification. This abbreviated procedure, while safer and more simple for applicants, has also meant that scam artists who have fraudulently obtained this personal information on consumers from prior data breaches and identity theft can apply for unemployment benefits on unwary consumers' behalves.
Rutledge and Cassell advise consumers who suspect that their identity has been used to apply for unemployment benefits should immediately:
File a police report and then contact the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services' fraud hotline at 501-682-1058.
Report the fraud to your employer.
Obtain new copies of their credit reports from the three major credit reporting agencies (i.e., Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian) to confirm that no additional lines of credit have been opened in his or her name and consider requesting a fraud alert or a security freeze in order to prevent additional fraudulent activity.
If a victim of financial identity theft, apply for an identity theft passport with the Arkansas Attorney General's Office by submitting a copy of a police report and other relevant information. Identity theft passports are designed to assist consumers in proving their true identities.
Cassell added consumers are advised that if you receive funds that you did not apply for and that you were not expecting, do not accept them. Instead, report the matter to the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services at 501-682-1058 and to local law enforcement. Even if you did not request the funds, accepting such funds as part of an unemployment scam is unlawful.
If you believe you have experienced identity theft or have been scammed, contact the Searcy County Sheriff's Office at 870-448-2340 or the Arkansas Attorney General's office at (800) 482-8982 or oag@ArkansasAG.gov or visit ArkansasAG.gov.