The FBI Honolulu Division is currently working with the Guam Department of Labor regarding fraud cases involving the attempted theft of funds intended for Guam citizens who are unemployed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The true victims of these fraud crimes are unemployed citizens who are relying on these benefits to feed their families,” said FBI Honolulu Special Agent in Charge Eli S. Miranda, “The FBI will continue working with government and law enforcement partners to stop those who illegally profit on the backs of taxpayers. It is important, during times of crisis, we all remain vigilant to the numerous types of scams that divert resources from genuine recovery efforts.”
Nationwide, the FBI has seen a spike in fraudulent unemployment insurance claims related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic involving the use of stolen personally identifiable information (PII).
Criminal actors are victimizing U.S. citizens by impersonating the victims and using the victims’ stolen identities to submit fraudulent unemployment insurance claims online. The criminals obtain the stolen identity using a variety of techniques, including the online purchase of stolen PII, email phishing schemes, and scouring social media accounts.
Criminals who obtain money illegally need to find a way to move and hide the illicit funds. They frequently scam other people, known as money mules, into moving this illicit money for them.
Fraudsters are increasingly targeting individuals through “work from home” opportunities or dating websites to use as money mules. These money mules are asked to receive funds in their personal bank account and then “process” or “transfer” funds via wire transfer, ACH, mail, or money service businesses, such as Western Union or MoneyGram.
Acting as a money mule—allowing others to use one’s bank account or conducting financial transactions on behalf of others—not only jeopardizes the mule’s financial security and compromises their personally identifiable information, but is also a crime. Over the last several years, the FBI has dedicated significant resources to educating the public on common red flags that they may be acting as a money mule and has continued to reinforce this messaging to address the rise of COVID-19-related money mule schemes. The FBI encourages individuals to protect themselves by refusing to send or receive money on behalf of individuals and businesses for which they are not personally or professionally responsible, and to watch out for online job postings and emails from individuals promising easy money for little to no effort.
Many victims of identity theft related to unemployment insurance claims do not know they have been targeted until they try to file a claim for unemployment insurance benefits, receive a notification from the government unemployment insurance agency, receive an IRS Form 1099-G showing the benefits collected from unemployment insurance, or get notified by their employer that a claim has been filed while the victim is still employed.
The FBI advises the public to be on the lookout for the following suspicious activities:
Receiving communications regarding unemployment insurance forms when you have not applied for unemployment benefits
Unauthorized transactions on your bank or credit card statements related to unemployment benefits
Any fees involved in filing or qualifying for unemployment insurance
Unsolicited inquires related to unemployment benefits
Fictitious websites and social media pages mimicking those of government agencies
Tips on how to protect yourself:
Be wary of telephone calls and text messages, letters, websites, or emails that require you to provide your personal information or other sensitive information, especially birth dates and Social Security numbers. Be cautious with attachments and embedded links within email, especially from an unknown email sender.
Make yourself aware of methods fraudsters are using to obtain PII and how to combat them by following security tips issued by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, including: Avoiding Social Engineering and Phishing Attacks; Protecting Against Malicious Code Preventing and Responding to Identity Theft
Monitor your bank accounts on a regular basis and request your credit report at least once a year to look for any fraudulent activity. If you believe you are a victim, review your credit report more frequently.
Immediately report unauthorized transactions to your financial institution or credit card provider.
If you suspect you are a victim, immediately contact the three major credit bureaus to place a fraud alert on your credit records. Additionally, notify the Internal Revenue Service by filing an Identity Theft Affidavit (IRS Form 14039) through irs.gov or identitytheft.gov.
If you believe you have been targeted to act as a money mule or a victim of identity theft related to fraudulent unemployment insurance claims, report the fraud to the Guam FBI Office at (671) 472-7465, the Guam Department of Labor at firstname.lastname@example.org, the IRS, credit bureaus, and your employer’s human resources department. The FBI encourages victims to report fraudulent or any suspicious activities to the Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov. You may consult identitytheft.gov for help in reporting and recovering from identity theft.
(FBI news release)