By: Cassie Dickman
September 7, 2020 —
Identity thieves have been targeting the San Joaquin County homeless community by claiming to be state workers who can help with acquiring unemployment benefits, authorities say.
The county District Attorney’s Office put out a video public service announcement on social media Friday warning of possible scammers in the area falsely identifying themselves as California Employment Development Department employees.
Katherine Mahood, deputy district attorney of the DA’s Identity Theft Unit, said the perpetrators pretend they are going to file CARES Act — the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act — unemployment claims on the victim’s behalf and ask them for personal identifying information such as social security numbers.
“This is a scam. No one from the EDD, any government organization or any other legitimate organization will contact you and help you initiate benefits. You must do this on your own,” Mahood said. “This is fraud and it’s identity theft.”
Those who have approached people living in homeless camps did so under the guise of doing outreach, Angela Hayes, DA spokeswoman, said Saturday afternoon during a phone interview.
While this kind of fraud can happen to anyone, Hayes said the homeless population is particularly vulnerable. District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar has since reached out to community partners who work with the homeless in the county for help in informing those living unsheltered about possible scams, Hayes said.
Some law enforcement agencies in San Joaquin County also have found people in possession of unemployment benefit debit cards that do not belong to them, Hayes said, adding that this kind of fraud has been happening all over the state. The EDD is just so overwhelmed with trying to process claims right now that Hayes said enforcement has fallen to local authorities.
“We’re going to have to be proactive as a community,” Hayes said.
Unemployment fraud attempts have increased during the COVID-91 pandemic, the EDD says, with scammers looking to exploit state efforts to help those who have been impacted by the novel coronavirus.
“While specific details cannot be shared at this time at the risk of jeopardizing investigations, recent schemes have triggered multiple mail items with different names sent to addresses throughout the state,” EDD officials said.
From January to June, the EDD said about 60% of notices requiring additional identifying documents were responded to by those making legitimate unemployment claims. That number dropped to 15% in July and 9% in August, “indicating a strong suspicion of recent fraud that will go unpaid since the EDD will not receive the necessary documents on these claims to prove identity.”
The agency says its investigation team is working with local, state and federal partners to fight against fraud and hold offenders accountable, adding those who suspect fraud should report it to the EDD right away and provide mail evidence if possible.
The San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office warned Friday that anyone can become an identity theft victim, including businesses, schools, clubs and organizations.
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“(Scammers) get your information breaking into your businesses, your homes, your vehicles, stealing your mail and even calling you or contacting you and pretending to be your bank, the Social Security Administration or the IRS,” Mahood said. “Do not give these people your information, call those businesses or entities yourself.”
Anyone who believes they have been a victim of one of these schemes should contact their local law enforcement agency as soon as possible, Mahood said.
Said Mahood: “And to the organized criminals who are stealing money from hardworking people who need it to pay their rent and to feed their children, you will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law up to and including prison.”
This article courtesy of Recordnet.com
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