Hot Springs Village Police Chief Ricky Middleton and Amanda Priest, communications director for the office of Attorney General Leslie Rutledge would like to alert Hot Springs Village residents to the threat of a new scam.
Con artists are using the COVID-19 virus to target unemployment benefits. The Department of Workforce Services normal in-person application process was replaced by an online procedure due to social distancing requirements. An applicant’s name, date of birth, Social Security number, and employer verification is the only information needed to apply for unemployment benefits in Arkansas.
Scammers obtain their information from previous data breaches and identity theft. They can use the material to apply for unemployment benefits.
“My office has received almost 200 complaints from Arkansans who have had their personal information used to fraudulently apply for unemployment by scam artists,” said Rutledge. “We have been working with the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services and financial institutions in order to assist consumers in stopping unlawful payments and preventing additional identity theft.”
A local HSV Realtor discovered 22 communiques from the ADWS in the mailbox of 1 of her “For Sale” listings. “My client lives in Tennessee. I drop by occasionally to check out the house and retrieve mail. Initially, I pulled 14 ADWS envelopes out of the box; most were addressed to people with different names. Since that time I’ve found 8 more.”
She’s concerned and full of questions, “How and why did these people choose this address? Are they watching the box and making pickups? It’s scary to think they’ve staked out my listing.”
Middleton says his department has been contacted regarding the scam. He says several of his own officers were targeted and believes it’s one of several schemes surrounding the online unemployment process and COVID-19 stimulus checks.
Middleton offers a few suggestions if a Villager discovers or receives unemployment benefits for which they haven’t applied. First verify the check’s authenticity, do not cash the check and return it to ADWS. Residents who believe their identity is compromised might want to file a police report.
Priest regularly posts alerts on the AG’s website notifying Arkansans of scams and how grifters may be operating within the state. She shares the latest counsel from Rutledge.
People suspecting their identity has been used to apply for unemployment benefits should immediately:
• File a police report and then contact the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services’ fraud hotline at 501-682-1058.
• Report the fraud to your employer.
• Obtain new copies of their credit reports from the 3 major credit reporting agencies (i.e., Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian) to confirm that no additional lines of credit have been opened in his or her name and consider requesting a fraud alert or a security freeze in order to prevent additional fraudulent activity.
• If a victim of financial identity theft, apply for an identity theft passport with the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office by submitting a copy of a police report and other relevant information. Identity theft passports are designed to assist consumers in proving their true identities.
Consumers are advised that if you receive funds that you did not apply for and that you were not expecting, do not accept them. Instead, report the matter to the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services at 501-682-1058 and to local law enforcement. Even if you did not request the funds, accepting such funds as part of an unemployment scam is unlawful.
If you believe you have experienced identity theft or have been scammed, contact the Arkansas Attorney General’s office at 800-482-8982 or oag@ArkansasAG.gov or visit ArkansasAG.gov.
At press time the AG’s office had received more than 1,400 calls regarding the theft of unemployment benefits.