Fallen victim to an unemployment benefit scam? Here's what to do and whom to notify

Binghui Huang
Indianapolis Star

In the last few weeks, the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, the state's Attorney General's office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have all asked Hoosiers to report a scam that has siphoned off $120,000 in unemployment benefits through phishing texts. 

But yet, people still don't know how to report the scam or what to do next.

It's a problem that goes well beyond unemployment scams.

As the number of scams and phishing attacks that target people's identities and money become more frequent, infrastructure to respond to these attacks lags behind, said Scott Shackelford, the Cybersecurity Program Chair at Indiana University.

"There's a lot of confusion. We don't make it easy on people when it comes to who they should call," he said. "Even when you report it, sometimes you get an automated response. Or even if you speak to an agent, you might not get something meaningful to happen."

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There's no universal number to call that's comparable to dialing 911, he said. Ideally, there would be a number for all scams where trained people can talk people through steps they can take such as freezing their credit.

George Brenner knows that frustration all too well. When scammers applied to unemployment with his information, he submitted paperwork to report the incident and never heard back.

"I would only presume there's nothing but inaction on this," he said. 

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Similarly, when Elkhart resident Heidi Compton's son tried to report the scam by calling the DWD, he never got through, she said.

That's a common experience for people who tried to call the department that's been overwhelmed with cases since the pandemic forced businesses to lay off or furlough an unprecedented number of people over the past 15 months.

While cyber attacks have been around for decades, they've become more frequent in recent years as increasing technology use allows for more opportunities to steal information and money. That's especially true for unemployment offices that have doled out billions in benefits to support the crush of people who found themselves jobless.

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Since last year, there has been more than 3,200 complaints regarding unemployment scams or fraud, according to the Indiana Attorney General's office. Many of these attacks come from outside of the country, which makes it hard to track and prosecute. 

One in five government or private organizations in Indiana has suffered a cyberattack in the past three years, according to an Indiana University survey of more than 300 agencies and businesses.

Despite the frequency of these attacks, there's insufficient data about the scale of the problem, Shackelford said.

"There's patchy framework of data to build good policy on top of," he said. "It's not clear how many cyber attacks there are, how much they cost us, what variety they come in."

Here are some things to know about what to do if you're scammed.

Can I get my money back if scammers took my benefits?

if you lost payments, you'll need to research which forms are required by your state and the IRS. Make sure to keep records of any case or confirmation numbers and the name of anyone with whom you corresponded and the date.

The Department of Labor's website has links that will let you file a fraud report with the unemployment offices in all 50 states as well as their phone numbers. Your state unemployment office will then investigate and will notify you about the repayment of any lost benefits.

You should also file a report with the following organizations:

  • Your state police
  • Your employer's human resource department (Again, be sure to keep track of whom you communicated with and when.)
  • The Federal Trade Commission 

What do I do if my information was stolen?

There are multiple agencies who can help with stolen identity.

You'll need to notify your state's unemployment office, police and attorney general's office as well as the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center. You may be able to find these forms by searching for the agency name, your state and "stolen identity" or "unemployment insurance fraud."

After filing reports with those agencies, notify all three credit bureaus (Equifax, TransUnion and Experian). You may also want to consider freezing your credit reports so that you can be notified if anyone tries to apply for benefits or credit in your name.

What's the best way to report scams to my state's unemployment office?

Search for your state and "unemployment office report scam." This should help you locate a form or contact email as well as instructions on what to include in your report.

What if a scammer changed my information for my unemployment account?

Change your password to something unique and check your payment options to make sure it's correctly routed to your bank.

Contact IndyStar reporter Binghui Huang at 317-385-1595 or Follow her on Twitter @Binghuihuang