The Arizona Department of Economic Security is reporting numerous incidents of fraud through identity theft related to unemployment benefits. The DES, Arizona Attorney General’s Office and local law enforcement have received the fraud reports.

In Fountain Hills the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office has received at least half a dozen reports related to such fraud since July 1.

Unemployment benefit scams have been on the increase over the past few months due to the number of people out of work due to COVID-19, along the with the government increasing the amount individual can collect each week in addition to what the state provides, according to MCSO Capt. Larry Kratzer, commander for the Sheriff’s District 7 based in Fountain Hills.

“This is a scam that is on the increase all over the county from my understanding,” Kratzer said. “There are only a few of these cases that have any investigative lead info that allows for (an MCSO) detective to work the case. Many of the states DES have their own fraud departments and they conduct a lot of the investigations.”

Arizona DES issued an alert on the scams in late June with an announcement it had strengthened its fraud detection and prevention for the Unemployment Insurance benefits program. The alert stated the fraudulent activity involving Unemployment Insurance is sweeping the country.

Scammers are using phishing scams, previous corporate data breaches and other tactics to collect information on individuals to apply for the benefits, according to DES.

“Ensuring the integrity of DES programs and safeguarding the personal information of claimants remains a top priority for the Department,” said DES Director Michael Wisehart. “States across the nation have seen a significant surge in Unemployment Insurance benefit fraud, largely in association with identity theft.

“The DES Inspector General is working closely with the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, the U.S. Department of Labor, the U.S. Secret Service and other law enforcement entities to share information and resources available to prevent and detect fraud.”

DES is urging anyone who has received a letter or debit card in the mail for unemployment benefits and they did not file for the benefits to take the following steps immediately:

*File a criminal complaint with the Arizona Attorney General’s Office online or by calling (602) 542-8888 or (520) 628-6504.

*File a complaint with the Arizona Department of Economic Security.

*Destroy the debit card you received after you report the fraud to the Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES).

*Alert your employer and Human Resources (HR) Department to flag any notice that comes from DES about a claim filed under your name.

*File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at IdentityTheft.gov. The FTC can also help you place a one-year fraud alert on your credit, get free credit reports, and close fraudulent accounts in your name.

*If you know how the fraud took place (i.e. credit card, bank account, etc.) you should also immediately notify the credit card company/bank.

As per the Attorney General’s Office, under Arizona law, a fraud scheme is a Class 2 felony. Identity Theft is either a Class 3 or Class 4 felony, depending on the amount of money stolen. Additionally, a person who spends money from DES or any government agency that they are not legally entitled to could be charged under theft statutes.