HONOLULU (KHON2) — Unemployment Insurance and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) fraud cases continue to be a problem. More people are finding out their identities were used to file fake claims as the IRS sends out tax forms.
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Officials have been tracking the issue since last spring when more than 150,000 Hawaii residents lost their jobs due to the pandemic. The Federal Government provided $2.2 trillion in assistance through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
State Rep. John Mizuno said, he could not believe it when his accountant told him someone used his name and information to open an unemployment insurance claim to collect benefits.
“They used my name, work address and even my title to file the claim,” Mizuno said. “They actually had my Social Security number, the cyber criminals. I couldn’t believe that. I was shocked. This is a brazen act. If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone.”
The Mizuno imposter attempted to defraud the Hawaii Department of Labor, but Penny Kobayashi, another victim, said she found out someone filed a PUA claim in her name on the East Coast.
“I ran into someone that lives in my old home from over 30 years ago, and they happen to have a letter addressed to me,” Kobayashi said. “So when I saw it, the letter, it came from the New York State unemployment office. And I was surprised because it had my Social Security (number) on there.”
Department of Labor and Industrial Relations (DLIR) Director Anne Perreira-Eustquio said, they are receiving more reports of fraud now that 1099 tax forms are being mailed out.
“We’re hearing from some of the claimants, or some of the community, that they are not claimants, and it wasn’t them. And we are doing some investigations to make sure that that’s the case, and then remedying the situation,” Perreira-Eustaquio said.
She said the majority of the fraud cases involve PUA, not regular unemployment.
According to the DLIR website, any victim of unemployment or PUA fraud should contact the labor department of the state where the claim was made.
Cybersecurity expert Chris Duque said, unemployment fraud is a form of identity theft. He also suggests making a police report because it could help in case the criminal tries to do anything else with the information.
“Contact your financial institution, your bank, your credit union, your credit card company, see if they have any kind of services where they provide identity theft protection,” Duque said.
Duque said, be careful when receiving unsolicited phone calls, letters or emails as they could be a phishing scam.
“The key when we get these solicitations is to be wary of them. Check the email address. Check the websites you’re visiting. Make sure they’re valid, and just be careful about putting out information,” Duque explained.
Duque said, preventing identity theft is not always something that can be controlled.
“The issue comes up where entities that have our personal information are not as diligent as us in protecting our personal information,” Duque explained. “They may be the one to leak our personal information.”
A number of high profile data breaches in recent years have leaked millions of people’s private information.
Duque said, the best thing to do is be prepared for when it when it happens.