State: Identity theft leads to spike in fraudulent unemployment claim complaints

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- The state said it received 1,600 and 2,000 calls per week in the month of January from people reporting unemployment claims filed in their names. These were fraudulent claims through identity theft.

"As we saw this influx occur, we acted immediately," Wanda Stokes, director of the Talent Investment Agency, said.

Stokes says a spike in identity theft complaints occurred in December. She said people have been stealing information like names, addresses, dates of birth, and Social Security numbers in various ways.

Detective James Grady with the Michigan State Police explained, "Suspects are attacking us through the internet. They're utilizing phishing scams, income tax scams, they're selling and purchasing personal information through the dark web."

He said thieves are also using traditional methods like going through your garbage and mailbox. Stokes said multiple state departments, not just the UIA, are affected. While the calls dropped to 500 per week in March, she said there's more to be done.

"We are working very diligently to address this problem, but we need your help. We need you to call us. You get a letter from our agency and you know you didn't file for unemployment we need you to not just throw that letter away. We need you to call our hotline. We need you to go onto our website and let us know that you received this information so that we can open a file and start the investigation," Stokes said.

If you do file a complaint, UIA director Michelle Beebe said new legislation prompts the state to mail three letters when the investigation is complete.

"The employee will be notified that the investigation has been resolved, the victim will be notified, as well as a letter sent to the address of record that the claim was filed," Beebe explained.

The agencies suggest you protect and closely monitor your financial and personal information.

Grady said, "I can't stress enough the importance of checking your credit at least once or twice a year."

He also suggests you shred important documents, have strong passwords, and notes that thieves can also be people you know.

In addition to calling the UIA's fraud hotline at 1-855-UI-CRIME, the state said individuals and businesses can file a claim online if they believe identity theft has taken place. You can find that by clicking here.

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