Financial planning and wealth management is more than investments and managing funds, it’s also being aware and ready for a financial crisis. While many risks are accidental or internal, others are targeted maliciously against you. Part of financial preparedness is education and planning for fraud prevention because even now, in this time of crisis, criminals aren’t pausing the various types of fraud and theft that impact millions of Americans each year. Today we’d like to share with you a story from one of our own who was recently a victim of fraud, as well as planning and resources for dealing with fraud so you can protect yourself.
Angel Williams: Unemployment Fraud
With everything going on in the world, it should be no surprise that scammers are more active now than ever. Unfortunately, scammers were out there and holding on to my personal information, just waiting for the perfect opportunity. How was I a victim? Unemployment Fraud.
Rewinding Back to April
It started in April when I received a letter stating that I had qualified for unemployment benefits, followed by another letter the next day telling me how to receive benefits as soon as next week. I was mortified because I hadn’t applied for it. How could this happen to me? I am extra cautious: I never give away my social security number. I have two-factor authentication on everything.
Doing Research and Testing
After a quick web search and attempting to apply for benefits myself, I realized the first thing they ask for is your social security number. Crap, but wait, how did this even happen? I have a job, an amazing job! Don’t they verify that you have been fired or laid off? I was in the perfect situation for fraud; I left my old job last year. The person who stole my identity, they filed via my old job. It slipped through the cracks because my former employer didn’t know. They just verified that I worked there last year.
How I Recovered from Fraud
After a 15-minute freak out, I calmed down. Thankfully, since I had many years in the finance industry and taken courses about cybersecurity and fraud, I knew exactly what to do.
- Alert the credit bureaus. They all talk to each other, so you only have to tell one. I decided not to freeze credit and instead do a credit alert. (A freeze generally stops all access to your credit report, while a fraud alert permits creditors to get your report as long as they take steps to verify your identity).
- Request a credit report and then read it carefully. Note that the CARES Act has changed (for the better) how your credit report handles debt you’re currently repaying.
- File a police report – ALWAYS do this.
- Contact the state department that handles your state’s unemployment benefits/unemployment insurance. I placed a complaint with the employee benefits fraud hotline, as well as emailed and left messages.
- Let the government know; file a report with the FTC and the IRS. You have to pay taxes on unemployment benefits; therefore, you have to let the government know, so they don’t make you pay additional taxes come tax time.
- Sign up for credit monitoring and keep a close eye on it.
After doing all of this, I reset passwords and then combed through all my credit cards and bank statements to ensure I didn’t see any fraudulent transactions. Unfortunately, my student loans were completely intact, with a balance still due.
Angel Williams is our Client Relationship Director, a major source of information for our clients, as well as a driving force for educational content like these blogs.
Education and Recovery Resources
Throughout all of that, Angel was thinking to herself that “I am sure not everyone knows what to do.” This is why she wanted to share her experience with others to help those who might be in her situation. She’s not alone, a few weeks after her incident, the FBI stepped in to investigate the hundreds of unemployment fraud claims in Rhode Island. Here are some resources if your identity is stolen and used to commit fraud:
- IdentityTheft.gov: A website run by the US Federal Trade Commission. Includes a number to report identity theft, build a recovery plan, and resources to implement it.
- Identity Theft Resource Center: A website funded by grants from the US Department of Justice, among others. Provides resources as well as tracks new frauds and threats.
- Taxpayer Guide to Identity Theft: A resource from the US Internal Revenue Service on identity fraud for taxes and how to identify fake IRS correspondence.
- National Cyber Awareness System: The US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), covering alerts and threats to individuals and businesses online.
- Data Breach Identity Lookup: Under the light-hearted name “Have I Been Pwned?” this website can search data breach databases to see if your email has been compromised.
As Angel said, if you’re the victim of identity theft and fraud, it’s important to report it, both to local police as well as through the FTC. Here at Beck Bode, part of our philosophy is doing our research. Make sure to do your own, know your resources, and stay financially literate to spot these fraud attacks and have a response ready. If you’d like to learn more about safeguarding your financials, reach out to us to talk to a financial advisor.
We look forward to talking with you.
Ben Beck is Managing Partner & Chief Investment Officer at Beck Bode, a deliberately different wealth management firm with a unique view on investing, business and life.