Last September, I got home from work, and something wasn’t right. I’d received a Notice of Monetary Determination from the state office that handles Unemployment Insurance benefits. It explained how much I would be receiving.
Two things about this were problematic: First, the letter wasn’t actually sent to my address. The street number was off by one digit. Second, and more importantly, I hadn’t applied for unemployment benefits.
I called the agency and explained the situation and the representative immediately said, “Oh, yeah, your identity has been stolen.” It was obvious he’d heard similar stories and had a list of the exact steps I’d need to follow. The first of which was to notify local law enforcement and file a police report.
The officer I spoke with explained that they were seeing a lot of this type of fraud, since the pandemic required that people not apply in person. He said that the close-but-incorrect address scam was common because the address seems legitimate enough to not raise red flags, but it can keep the victim from knowing that someone has stolen their identity. If I didn’t live in an area with so few people, I might have never known about the issue until the IRS contacted me about legal action!
The next thing I had to do was close my bank accounts and open new ones. Obviously, this was time consuming, but the next thing the officer told me to do was pretty surprising: he told me that since my social security number had been leaked online, I needed to consider changing my social security number. I didn’t even know someone could change their social security number!
This already was a lot of work, but it was only the beginning. I also had to provide a copy of the email I sent to the unemployment agency along with my 2020 taxes to avoid any issues with unemployment fraud charges.
I called my bank and explained what had occurred. There didn’t seem to be evidence that my bank account information was compromised, so we put a notice that I was the victim of identity theft. There was a fraud alert put onto my accounts, so that odd activity would be flagged.
The list of things to do and people to contact seems to be endless. I was in the final steps of purchasing a new home when I had to contact all three credit bureaus to place holds on my accounts, and the issues with credits and holds made everything far more difficult and time consuming than I ever anticipated.
After months of this process, it’s still not resolved and, in February of this year, I received another notification — sent to the fake address — about pandemic unemployment assistance that I never requested. And so, the process will start over again.
Even though I’m still in the midst of this issue, throughout it all, I’ve learned a lot about the importance of identity management. Ultimately there wasn’t anything I could have done to have prevented this breach, but I still recognize how important it is to use good, complex passwords and change them frequently. I see how beneficial it is to monitor my credit and make sure I properly handle my bills — both paper and electronic.
I don’t want you to feel helpless, though. There are a lot of things that you can do to take this seriously and protect your personal information and the personal information of your family. You can help protect yourself and your family by:
- Having credit monitoring,
- Using multi-factor authentication whenever it’s offered,
- Shredding paper documents, and
- Being truly alert and aware of phishing.
Our commitment to digital and IT transformation is shaped by daily dedication to customer service and the close collaboration of our workforce, managers, and leaders. Ready to join us in improving Veterans’ care? Check out all current information and technology career opportunities on DigitalVA. You can also contact VA’s Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer at 512-326-6600, Monday thru Friday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. CST or by submitting a resume to VACareers@va.gov.