Government documents and benefits fraud surged 45 times in 2020
Recent findings by Atlas VPN reveal that government documents or benefits fraud jumped 45 times in 2020. Most states have experienced a dramatic surge in fraudulent unemployment benefits claims filed by organized crime rings using stolen identities.
In short, fraudsters are utilizing phishing scams, past data breaches, and other methods to collect information from individuals across the nation and file for Unemployment Insurance (UI) and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefits.
Not only did government documents or benefits fraud reach an all-time high, but it even became the most prominent scam strategy in 2020.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received 5,251 such complaints in 2019 Q4, while in 2020 Q4, the number reached a staggering 235,859 individual reports, representing a 4,391% increase.
Americans filed a total of 406,375 complaints regarding government documents or benefits fraud in 2020, which amounts to around 1,113 victims per day.
Most people realize that they were a victim of identity theft when they get a notice from their employer or from their state unemployment benefits office regarding their supposed application for benefits.
However, at that point, the funds have usually been transferred to the criminals’ account. Fraudsters then transfer the money through countless foreign accounts so that it would be nearly impossible to track down.
Another note-worthy increase was in loan or lease fraud. This type of scam jumped from 32,295 complaints in 2019 Q4 to 59,900 in 2020 Q4, amounting to an 85% increase.
Here, the process is similar, but instead of criminals filing for unemployment benefits using stolen identities, they take out leases or loans in the name of the victim. Citizens affected by this scam usually get informed by their bank or the company that gave out the lease or loan.
Moreover, bank fraud jumped by 44% and other types of identity theft grew by 38% when comparing the number of complaints in 2019 Q4 and 2020 Q4.
As a final note about the prevalence of identity theft in the US, the Federal Trade Commission estimates that as many as 9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year.
Protect yourself from identity theft
While anyone can become a victim of identity theft, there are some steps each person can take to minimize their chances.
Firstly, be on the lookout for phishing scams. At the start of the year, we found that Google detected a record 2.11 million phishing sites in 2020. These web pages pretend to be legitimate, well-known brands so that they can trick users into typing in their login credentials or sharing other private information.
Yet, phishing scams come in many forms. Hackers might also contact you via email, where they will provide you with a link to click on or an attachment to download. Whenever you get an email with a link or an attachment, a huge red flag should go up, and you should proceed with caution.
Secondly, be vigilant over what information you give out online. Nowadays, no company is safe from becoming a victim of a data breach. This is why you should provide as little information as possible to any service you use online.
In addition, do not give any personal information or account numbers if you get contacted via phone or email, until you have confirmed the identity of the person requesting the information. Legitimate authorities will never request your sensitive information via phone or email, so if anyone does ask you for your personal information via these means of communication, then you should become very suspicious.
Finally, if you believe that you are a victim of identity theft, go to the Federal Trade Commission identity theft website: www.identitytheft.gov to get your personal recovery plan.