Michael Marti and several co-workers in his Albuquerque office all received notice from the state that they were eligible for unemployment benefits.
However, all of them were fully employed at a local insurance agency and had never filed claims.
Not long ago, a Chama woman also received a letter from the state Department of Workforce Solutions, telling her she could start collecting her unemployment. Problem: She’s a former teacher who retired years ago, hadn’t applied and wasn’t eligible.
All are part of a nationwide boom in unemployment insurance fraud in the wake of enhanced pandemic-related assistance. As much as $26 billion in unemployment benefits already has been obtained through fraud, according to the U.S. Department of Labor inspector general.
In New Mexico, there are 847 fraud cases under investigation, according to Workforce Solutions. The department says it has recovered or prevented $23 million in fraud.
Thieves are using stolen personal information obtained through data breaches or other means to file the fraudulent claims. In New Mexico, the most common type of fraud involves such identity theft, with thieves setting up an account using that information to collect the benefits, said Bill McCamley, secretary of the state Department of Workforce Solutions.
The thieves then transfer the ill-gotten unemployment funds to an account they have access to, he said.
Marti learned of the benefits he had never sought through a letter from the state saying he had been approved to receive up to $11,000. He then received another letter telling him the benefits were paid in error and that he had to return the money. (The state later cleared him of his supposed debt.)
Marti also received a 1099-G form from the Internal Revenue Service, on which he was to report the unasked-for and unreceived payments.
Now that tax season has begun, more people are expected to get these forms and have no idea why.
Here are signs that someone has filed in your name, besides receiving the IRS form:
– Your employer is notified that you filed for unemployment benefits, even if you’re still working there.
– You get notification from the state confirming your supposed last day of work, even though you haven’t left.
– You get a letter from the state, telling you either that your benefits were denied or that they were approved, even though you never applied.
If you think this happened to you:
– Notify the state Department of Workforce Solutions at firstname.lastname@example.org. Include in the subject line “identity theft” and the claimant ID or the last four digits of your Social Security number. In the body of the email, include your full name, phone number and other information about the incident. Consider including a photo of the document. You can also call the department at 505-243-7283 or 1-877-664-6984.
– Let the state know if you improperly receive a 1099-G form by calling the tax fraud hotline at 1-866-457-6789 or sending an email to Tax.Fraud@state.nm.us.
Contact Ellen Marks at email@example.com if you are aware of what sounds like a scam. To report a scam to law enforcement, contact the NM Consumer Protection Division toll-free at 1-888-255-9210 or file a complaint at www.nmag.gov/file-a-complaint.aspx