NEW YORK (WABC) -- New York State has identified over 521,000 fraudulent unemployment benefit claims during the COVID-19 pandemic, preventing fraudsters from stealing more than $6.4 billion in benefits.
"She was terrified," said Danielle Sofia. "It was like a kick to the gut."
From Oyster Bay to Lake Hiawatha, a tide of unemployment fraud victims expressed their fear learning criminals stole their identities to rob the state.
Sofia's mother knew something was strange when she got a letter approving her claim, but also never filed.
"We tried making an account with NY DOL, but whoever made the account had already made it!" she said.
"I owed for $5,000 back to the government," said Vanessa Bellardini, fraud victim.
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Bellardini, a teacher, worked not one but two jobs in New Jersey during COVID and never applied for unemployment either.
Yet she was notified that her unemployment claim was denied and ordered to pay back all the checks someone else had been cashing for months.
7 On Your Side had to get her off the hook.
"Absolute relief," Bellardini said. "I am so grateful."
The big takeaway is if you get a letter confirming a benefit you didn't apply for:
- Report it right away to the Social Security Administration, DOL, the FTC, and your local police.
- Change your passwords logins and pins for anything linked to your credit card
- And sign up for fraud alerts with your bank and with the three credit bureaus. That is free and helps you push the pause button if someone tries to open an account in your name.
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