How to Avoid Unemployment and Loan Scams
If you’re applying for unemployment benefits or loans, you’re already vulnerable to scammers.
Essentially, scammers steal peoples’ identities and take their unemployment benefits. They may offer sketchy loans or loans that don’t even exist. Predators are on the lookout for people in need, and some criminals are extremely skilled.
The Federal Trade Commission has reported a huge uptick in fraud scam reports. More Americans are applying for unemployment benefits, so there’s likely less official oversight, according to scams expert Steven Weisman.
“Unemployment has always been an issue, but it’s an even bigger one now since the agencies are flooded,” said Weisman. “When we’re dealing with so many people filing, they’re probably doing a less comprehensive check.”
Loans have always been a breeding ground for scammers, but Weisman said that the pandemic increased overall desperation.
“Where people are fearful, anxious, they’re not going to be as careful. That’s when these predatory lenders step in and take advantage,” Weisman said.
However, people need to look for signs of scams anytime they’re applying for unemployment or loans. “Even in the best of times we have to be skeptical. In the worst of times we have to be even more skeptical,” said Weisman. “This is a problem that never ever goes away.”
If you encounter a scam, report it immediately to the Federal Trade Commission. You may not be able to get money back, but you’ll be protecting future victims, according to Weisman.
7 Tips for Avoiding Unemployment Scams
Here are top tips for avoiding scams when applying for unemployment benefits and loans.
1. Make sure you’re visiting an official state unemployment site.
Finding a legitimate unemployment benefits site sounds simple, but scammers are very sophisticated, according to Weisman.
“If you Google ‘Unemployment Benefits,’ the website that comes up may look legit. It may be high on the Google search. But there are scammers who are adept at manipulating those algorithms,” said Weisman.
A good place to start is to make sure that you’re visiting a .gov domain and not a .com, .org or otherwise (a major exception is careeronestop.org, which is legitimately sponsored by the Department of Labor). However, that’s not enough, according to Weisman. “Some criminals are even adept at making .gov sites.”
Stick to irs.gov sites if you’re looking for your stimulus check, and make sure that you are using your state’s official unemployment website, which can be found here.
2. Make sure the site and your connection are secure.
If you’re inputting personal information on any website, take a careful look at the URL. Make sure there is an “s” in “https,” which stands for “secure.” This keeps your information encrypted, thereby blocking evesdroppers, said Weisman.
Also, your Internet connection needs to be private, said Weisman. Make sure that you’re using a VPN or an alternative security measure, especially when you’re using a public WiFi network. Otherwise, you are vulnerable to peeping identity theft predators.
3. Guard your social security number with your life.
According to Weisman, tour social security number is the key that predators need to steal your identity and co-opt your unemployment checks, as well as other aid. Always pause before giving away your social security number on any websites, via email or over the phone. Review the above steps very carefully before you hit send.
4. Beware payday loans.
So-called “payday loans” are legal in some states. They tend to be very high interest loans, and they are granted immediately with no credit checks, Often they come from sketchy institutions in the U.S. and abroad. Even if they are legal and if even if they sound like a great idea in the moment, Weisman insists they should be avoided.
“You end up paying way too much for it,” Weisman said. “Think about it like you’re a business and they don’t do a credit check on you, it means they’re taking a lot of people who wouldn’t be good risks, so they’re going to be charging a lot more to make up for their failures. Interest rates are piling up and compounding. Stick to legitimate institutions.”
5. Beware false loans and “grants.”
Some loans aren’t just sketchy, according to Weisman, but sometimes they’re completely illegal scams.
Often these scammers will tout a loan and will ask for advance fees, only for the borrower to discover that there is no money at all. Or, they’ll tell you that you’ve won a grant from a government agency.
“Maybe you get a message from a friend of yours that you are eligible for a new grant from the federal government, but it doesn’t exist,” said Weisman. “People will apply for them, and will pay fees to be eligible. They may sound legit, but you’ve got to check out the institution.”
6. Beware email attachments.
Email attachments may download malware to your computer, allowing scammers to access your personal information, according to Weisman. Generally, avoid opening email attachments from unknown entities. Stick to secure websites and phone calls.
7. No legitimate government institution is going to contact you first.
The government is busy fielding calls from applicants for aid. They don’t have time to reach out to you, nor is that how the process works, according to Weisman. If anyone is calling you ostensibly from any government agency and asking you for your social security number, it is likely a scam.
“I’ve seen an increase not just in calls saying they’re from Medicare, the IRS, the unemployment office, the CDC, the World Health Organizations,” said Weisman. “They’re the names that people trust.”
Tip: Also beaware of the new and the common job scams that are on the rise.