Erik Liddell checked his mail on a recent Saturday and found out he'd been approved for maximum unemployment benefits. It was a scene envisioned by lawmakers as they extended unemployment benefits to help people caught in the economic maelstrom caused by the coronavirus.
But Liddell still has a job developing software at Audible. He never applied for unemployment benefits.
The thought of it made him mad. Liddell has out-of-work friends who are still waiting for unemployment benefits to kick in after losing their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic. He's also worried that his personal information may have been compromised.
Wanting to clear this up, Liddell contacted the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance. He said he was told to fill out a form online, which he did. That was Tuesday. He still hasn't heard back from anyone.
"They need to have a way for people like me, who have claims in their name that are fraudulent, to get in contact with them immediately," Liddell said. "That way the money could be available for the people who need it."
He said he contacted the FBI and was told that cyber criminals are taking advantage of the chaos that's ensued from the pandemic.
"It's a rampant problem," said Tom Kellerman, who's the chief cyber security officer for Carbon Black, which provides protection for virtual storage clouds. "It's become quite the pandemic of its own."
But Liddell thinks the state should have more fail-safes in place to prevent something like this from even happening in the first place.
"I'd like to see the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment get it together," Liddel said. "It's 2020, their website is so antiquated. The whole process is a mess."
A department spokesperson said the matter is being investigated, and that criminals may be using personal information from data breaches that happened before the pandemic to file these fraudulent claims. The department is going to ramp up security measures, according to the spokesperson, but that may mean a longer delay for Liddell's friends who are still waiting for assistance.
"We believe these steps are necessary to respond to this unemployment scam," said Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Rosalin Acosta in a press release. "We are working rapidly to respond to this scheme and urge individuals who may have had a false unemployment claim filed in their name to contact the department.”
People can also file a complaint with the FBI's Internet Criminal Complaint Center, said Kellerman.
But where is the money going?
"A lot of the revenues that have been stolen, a lot of the unemployment benefits that have been redirected are being pushed into organized crime syndicates," said Kellerman. "Some of the syndicates [are] associated with drug trafficking. For them, it's a free money phenomenon."
Kellerman said in order decrease the likelihood of this happening to you, don't volunteer personal information to people calling or emailing you, claiming they're from the government or any other official agency. He also advised getting a separate internet router for any electronic devices you own that store sensitive information. And make sure your computer has some kind of anti-virus software, even if it is a Mac.
This segment aired on May 27, 2020. The audio for this segment is not available.