The COVID-19 pandemic has created an economic crisis, but also an opportunity for scammers. And the state is cracking down.
Two million jobs in New York were shed when the pandemic hit last year, sending people to the virtual unemployment line. As millions of dollars in unemployment benefits went out the door, some of the money has been landing in the pockets of scammers.
"Every state has a little bit of fraud in good years, people working while collecting that sort of thing," Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon said in an interview. "This is really international cyber criminals."
The Department of Labor has bolstered its special investigations unit. And earlier this year, the state began using a new tool to fight cyber crime. It's called ID.me. Used by other states, the company verifies jobless claims and has helped to cut down on fraud.
"It takes me to ID.me and they ask me to identify myself with various forms of identification and it is extremely secure and very, very reliable," Reardon said. "It has really been a game changer for us."
The new tool comes as cyber criminals have also stepped up their efforts, who have tried to work around visual confirmation with disguises.
"We have discovered that some of these cyber criminals are trying to wear masks so they look like the person they are filing for," Reardon said. "This is how sophisticated they are getting. But it doesn't work."
Fraudsters have used stolen identities to steal unemployment benefits. Reardon said New Yorkers should monitor their mail, and immediately report to the Labor Department's fraud website if they receive letters about benefits they didn't apply for.
"We need know if somebody filed in your name and it's fraudulent and we take it from there. So we don't know how they got your information," she said. "They did not get it from us. This important: People think the state systems have been hacked. They did not."
And if you did receive one of unemployment benefits letter wrongly, it may be worth getting credit monitoring as well.