Amid increasing incidents of identity theft relating to the filing of bogus Unemployment Insurance (UI) claims, Westchester District Attorney Miriam Rocah is urging county residents to be vigilant about monitoring and safeguarding all personal information.

Identity thieves are obtaining personal identifying information (PII) including name, address, date of birth, Social Security number and place of employment, and using that information to illegally apply for UI benefits, which have been enhanced for many recipients during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The PII is procured through the dark web — websites that are hidden to most internet users — or data breaches. PII is also obtained through email and text phishing schemes, sometimes with messages that appear to be government agencies asking for confirmation of PII.

Victims may not be aware of identity theft until they receive via regular mail paperwork from the New York State Department of Labor (DOL) relating to a UI application they never made, or a KeyBank debit card containing UI benefits. Victims’ employers may also receive notification from DOL. In some instances, multiple individuals from the same government agency, school district or other entity have had their PII compromised. 

“The DA’s office continues to aggressively investigate these cases and has been successful in recovering some of the criminal proceeds, and we are also advising all county residents to be vigilant in safeguarding all personal information and monitoring personal mail,” Rocah said. “If you receive a letter or other notification indicating that your PII has been used by someone else, report it to your local police department or call the DA’s office hotline, 914-995-TIPS (914-995-8477).”

Rocah noted that identity theft victims can also contact DOL at 888-598-2077 or online at https://dol.ny.gov/report-fraud.

“Unemployment Insurance benefits are a lifeline to New Yorkers in their time of need, and it is unconscionable that these criminals are trying to steal from them in the midst of a pandemic,” said Department of Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon. “We applaud District Attorney Rocah’s office for their partnership in helping us to combat this fraud. We urge New Yorkers to be vigilant in protecting their personal information and to refrain from responding to any emails, text messages or other communications that are not legitimately from the New York State Department of Labor.”

Victims of UI-related identity theft may also face tax implications, Rocah noted, because UI benefits are taxable income reported to the state and federal government and must be declared on personal income tax returns. Victims are advised to consult with their financial advisers or tax preparers to address this matter, and as appropriate they should also file an Internal Revenue Service form 14039 Identity Theft Affidavit and a New York State Department of Taxation and Finance form DTF-275 Identity Theft Declaration.

Individuals who believe they have been a victim of identity theft should also request a credit report to ensure there are no other unknown or unidentified uses of their credit. Federal law entitles each person to one free credit report per year from each credit reporting agency. To order a report, visit annualcreditreport.com. You may thereafter place a fraud alert on your credit with one of the three credit reporting agencies:

Equifax: 800-525-6285

Experian: 888-397-3742

TransUnion: 800-680-7289

DOL recently implemented ID.me, a secure online technology that verifies the identity of applicants, which is expected to mitigate and guard against the submission of fraudulent claims.

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