Fraudulent unemployment claims are skyrocketing across Illinois as scammers try to access jobless benefits using employees' Social Security numbers.
The Illinois Department of Employment Security said more than 200,000 fraudulent claims for unemployment benefits have been filed since March. WGLT found close to 500 at just three education institutions in Bloomington-Normal: 300+ at Illinois State University, 155 at Unit 5 schools, and more than 25 at District 87.
District 87 Superintendant Barry Reilly said notifications from the Illinois Department of Employment Security trickle in each week. Reilly said he is one of the victims.
“It’s unnerving. My wife and I monitor our credit card use regularly. When you get hit with this, all of a sudden, you are doing that a lot more often. You are well aware of making sure you keep your information close at hand and that boils down to things like passwords on your computer that you update and change frequently. All of those things you normally take for granted you now pay closer attention to. So, it has definitely changed my behavior,” said Reilly.
WGLT News Director Charlie Schlenker is another victim of the scam.
Employees in all industries have had their Social Security numbers fraudulently used to file for unemployment benefits.
Colette Homan, director of civil service employment at Illinois State University, said there have been more than 300 fraudulent claims involving ISU employees since March. She said employees have also received phone calls, emails, and text messages from scammers posing as officials from IDES and the Social Security Administration asking for additional personal information.
Homan advises employees to not respond.
“IDES does not and will not contact them by phone, or even by email needing other information,” Homan said. “Unfortunately, when some of our employees picked up the phone and remembered they're not supposed to and started saying, ‘No, I'm not going to give you that,’ the caller hung up.”
Homan said once IDES notifies the university about an employee’s unemployment claim, the university reaches out to employees individually asking about the claim. She said because the employees are still employed, a fraudulent claim will be filed and employees will be made aware of it.
“I do explain that our technology solutions, the security office has reviewed our security and we were not breached here. But as I tell them, unfortunately, I cannot tell them where or how their Social Security number was breached. I do let them know. But I found out that this is just not an Illinois State University issue. It's just not a state of Illinois employee issue.”
But once scammers make the claim using stolen information, IDES mails out an approval letter followed by a debit card to the victim’s address. Homan said, employees can use the notification letter to send to the fraud unit.
Who can employees contact about the fraudulent activity? Homan said aside from filing a fraudulent unemployment claim with IDES, employees can reach out to the Federal Trade Commission, check their credit report, and contact their credit card companies and banking institutions on the next steps as far as financial guidance and prevent other identity theft.
“I assume their bank can tell them what they should do because they're not going to be the first customer who's called with this, as well as their credit card companies,” Homan said. “I don't advise them on what they should do financially, I only tell them these are things that when you're a victim of identity theft, these are things that you should do.”
Reilly said District 87 Human Resources staff has also given guidance that includes the option to file police reports and freezing credit reports.
ISU and District 87 have also sent information about identity theft to all staff to raise awareness of identity theft.
ISU, District 87, and Unit 5 all said their IT departments found no data breaches that might have exposed employee data.
There's no subscription fee to listen or read our stories. Everyone can access this essential public service thanks to community support. Donate now, and help fund your public media.