The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development issued an urgent warning Wednesday evening about a "significant increase" in fraudulent activity related to unemployment insurance benefits.
The DWD said in a statement that the spike occurred over the last 24 hours via email, social media and phone calls. Fraudsters were attempting to obtain personal information from residents trying to receive their unemployment insurance benefits.
On Wednesday, the department said it received reports of an email phishing attack from a fake account called the "Wisconsin Department of Workforce."
"Many of those people were unable to provide answers to the security questions," said Amy Barrilleaux, DWD's director of communications.
The email requested unemployment insurance information and includes a link to a document where the resident is asked to fill out personal information.
"It's important to remember that while unemployment insurance claims specialists and adjudicators can send secure messages through the UI claims portal, they will never request information through email," according to the DWD's statement.
In the second incident, DWD says scammers tried to access information through social media. Wednesday morning, DWD worked with Facebook to take down a fake DWD page that emerged overnight.
The department says scammers were using the fake account to communicate with people commenting on DWD's legitimate Facebook page.
The fake page has been taken down, and at this time it does not appear anyone gave out personal information, the DWD says. You can identify DWD's real Facebook page by its blue checkmark indicating it's a verified account.
DWD added it has reported several accounts to Twitter that were phishing for information from users.
"I think we were able to catch everything. We are prepared again today if there's another uptick we're ready for that," Barrilleaux said. "I think the hope from scammers is just high volume, they’ll be able to get some thing from somebody who may not be paying attention."
In the third incident, the department said it has been receiving an "unusually high number" calls to its help desk regarding password resets or authorizations.
"The callers appear to be mostly impersonators attempting to gain access to unemployment insurance accounts. DWD's UI Fraud Investigations Unit is verifying whether calls are legitimate before any action is taken to change account information," according to the DWD.
The DWD offered several resources if you think you are a victim of the fraudulent incidents DWD reported Wednesday or others:
- If you receive a request for information and are unsure if it came from Wisconsin Unemployment Insurance, contact a claims specialist at (414) 435-7069, or toll free at (844) 910-3661.
- For more information about how to protect yourself from unemployment fraud and scams visit dwd.wisconsin.gov/ui/fraud/.
- If you think you've been a victim of identity theft, contact the Consumer Protection Hotline at (800) 422-7128.
"It's not unexpected that people will try to when there's a natural disaster or pandemic or any kind of opportunity to kind of get in there and when people are struggling or they're confused to come and take advantage of that," said Barrilleaux.