A San Diego man says a scammer used his information to collect unemployment checks -- but the thing is: He never lost his job, and now he says the unemployment office isn't helping.
Cory Peters told NBC 7 that there'is no money missing from his bank account but he still feels unprotected. He feels that way because of what a complete stranger knew about him in order to collect checks in his name from the state.
"Thankfully, both my wife and I have been able to work through all of this,” Peters said.
The vaccine researcher considers himself lucky to collect a paycheck during a pandemic -- which is why he was stunned when his boss asked if he filed for unemployment six months ago.
“I was instantly thinking identity theft,” Peters said.
It turns out, someone else used Peters' name, birthdate and social security number to collect unemployment checks in his name from the state.
“I went into panic mode,” Peters said.
Peters said he froze his credit but the sheriff's department told him it can't move forward without word from the California Employment Development Department. He said he reached out to the EDD, but, weeks later, the department won't hand anything over to his employer and won't get back to him.
“Frustrated at this point,” Peters said. “I have no evidence that this actually happened, as EDD hasn’t reached out or responded to my fraud alert."
Peters said his biggest worry is a potential audit from the IRS after he files taxes, should the agency ask him to pay taxes on money he never collected.
James Lee is COO of the Identity Theft Resource Center in San Diego. While he can’t speak on behalf of the EDD, Lee said it’s not unusual for the EDD to initially decline to pursue a report of fraud like Peters' case but then investigate at a later time.
"We've seen unprecedented levels of scams involving identities,” Lee said.
The reason? Unprecedented unemployment and thus, unprecedented federal aid up for grabs.
"This has been the payoff that the bad guys have been looking for,” Lee said. “For them, this is the World Series, the Super Bowl, the World Cup, the Masters, the NBA Finals all rolled up into one event."
California alone has paid out nearly $86 billion to workers affected by the pandemic, according to the EDD.
Nationwide, the Labor Department's Inspector General predicts scammers will cash in on $26 billion.
"There's a whole lot of money that's been pumped into the economy at one time," Lee said.
The problem is widespread. Beverly Hills police announced on Wednesday that officers arrested 44 people for identity-theft unemployment fraud totaling more than $2.5 million. Officers also seized nearly 130 fraudulent EDD debit cards. There can be as much as $20,000 on those cards, and cardholders can withdraw up to $1,000 per day.
Lee recommended the following if you are scammed:
- Change any password to a pass phrase and use a different one for each account
- Set up two-factor authentication
- Freeze your credit
- Create a few online accounts, even if you don't need them
“It’s so easy for somebody to be breached and for you to not even know,” Peters said.
NBC 7 reached out to the Employment Development Department about Peters' case, but are still awaiting a response.