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Photo: KNBC 

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WAND) - Illinois officials are warning the public to be on alert for phishing scams as fraudsters attempt to exploit American unemployment systems during the pandemic. 

According to the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES), there have been fraudulent text messages, emails and social media messages with fraudsters posing as IDES and other state agencies. Their goal is to phish for personal information.

"This is a continued, organized attempt to defraud state unemployment insurance systems until the expiration of the federal unemployment programs on Sept. 4, 2021," officials said in a press release. 

The public and claimants are told to be vigilant for fraudulent correspondence. People should take steps to strengthen and protect information on their online accounts. IDES claimants should have strong, unique account passwords and never share personal account information with untrustworthy sources. 

Steps for people to follow in order to recognize and avoid phishing schemes have been provided here by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). 

"Since March 2020, IDES has shut down more than 1.7 million claims filed with the department in the names of identity theft victims," the release said. "Throughout the pandemic, these organized and sophisticated crime syndicates have continued to adapt and evolve their attempts to access the unemployment insurance system. IDES has worked tirelessly to enhance internal analytic tools, fraud detection and prevention methods, and identity verification measures to increase protections around fraudsters accessing the system and filing fraudulent claims. Last week alone, the State of Illinois and IDES networks blocked nearly 450 million nefarious attempts to access the Department’s benefit system, either to file a fraudulent unemployment insurance claim or to compromise an existing claimant account to redirect payment."

Illinois is one of the states that committed to administering federal unemployment insurance programs until they expire until September in order to ensure people who are struggling receive the benefits they are federally eligible for. Officials said the programs include Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC). 

"As expected, fraudsters are increasing their attempts to access the unemployment insurance systems in states who have not opted out of administering these programs early," the IDES said. "This is being done through continued data mining via phishing schemes to attempt to file claims in the names of identity theft victims or steal benefits from existing claimants."

Officials said identity theft-related unemployment insurance fraud has been "rampant" since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic due to wide-scale availability of personally identifiable information (PII) and the creation and extension of federal unemployment insurance programs. 

Click here if you have been a victim of identity-theft related unemployment insurance fraud. The page has information about how to report a claim. 

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