CHICAGO (WLS) -- At time when so many people are filing legitimate unemployment claims and requests for other government benefits, there is a new concern about scammers obtaining personal information and using it to fraudulently cash in on benefits.
"I think it's horrible, I have been puzzled about how they went about getting my ID, my information. I have been really puzzled by that," said Vicki Montgomery, Calumet City resident.
Montgomery did not file for unemployment benefits and was shocked when she got an approval letter from the state saying $1,200 was going into a Bank of America account.
She even received a debit card in the mail but she doesn't think any money was placed on it. Then, weeks later, another letter arrved from The Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) telling her they wanted that $1,200 back.
"Now they are writing me saying it was an overpayment, in the amount of $1,200, which I had not received," she said.
Montgomery said she's a victim of an unemployment scam. Someone filed for benefits under her name, using her personal information. The Federal Trade Commission said it's getting thousands of identity theft complaints like this related to government benefit fraud.
Montgomery filed a police report and said she alerted IDES. She doesn't want to be responsible for the money someone else received.
"I need something in writing to say I am not liable for this particular amount of money," she said.
IDES said it is prohibited from commenting on specific cases, but told the I-Team, "Fraud is part of all unemployment systems, and unfortunately, can be particularly egregious during times of crisis."
The U.S. Department of Labor is also actively fighting the scam by using a special program to determine accuracy of claims.
"This is unfortunately not something new. Fraud, identity fraud has caused losses somewhere around $17 billion in 2019. And now this year we really have this perfect storm for fraud, for identity fraud and theft because we have this combination of lots of money flowing very quickly into the economy through these unemployment benefits," said Scott Clements, CEO of the security group OneSpan, which has a chicago office.
Clements said there are two versions of the scam. In the first, someone obtains your personal information to file a claim. In the second, scammers create "synthetic identities," taking bits and pieces of multiple people to create another person.
"If the hackers want to create a synthetic identity what they will do is base that on some information that is related to a real person or real individuals, then supplement that with some additional information they make up," explained Clements. "So very often that will allow them in the case of a government program to apply for benefits, unemployment benefits in this case."
He says in many cases, after the money is deposited into a domestic bank, it's quickly moved overseas.
"The unemployment system was created with built-in safety nets to detect, stop, and pursue those who commit fraud, including cross-matching claimant information against wage records," IDES said in a statement.
IDES also added it uses a system to cross reference with other states.
"The government wanted to get this money in people's hands very quickly. And we have this history of the last few years of massive personally identifiable information being stolen. Now that is all being combined with phishing attacks that take advantage of people's fears of the pandemic to create these identities to create massive amounts of theft," said Clements.
IDES says it requires users to upload or fax an ID during the application process. Montgomery is concerned someone has a copy of her driver's license, which she says she's only given to employers. She's also worried what might happen if she has to file a legitimate claim of her own during uncertain times.
"If I was to go and file for unemployment, there would be a problem because there is already a claim in for me," she said.
If this happens to you, report it immediately to police, the FTC and the state or federal agency in charge of the benefits that were distributed in your name. Experts say speed is important to quickly clear your name.
To help prevent this, remember to be extra cautious about giving anyone a copy of your license or state ID or access to your social security number.