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Identity theft surged in NY during pandemic

NYC highest reported ID thefts, 403 per 100K people, says report

May 14, 2021 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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Identity thefts in New York surged during the pandemic, with more than 67,000 complaints filed statewide in 2020.

This was 85 percent more than the previous year and more than four times the annual total from a decade earlier, according to a report released on Thursday by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.

Much of the COVID-related identity theft mentioned in the report can be traced to cyber-thieves who used stolen identities to get government-issued benefits such as unemployment benefits or stimulus checks, the report said.

The New York City metropolitan area had the highest rate of identity theft reports to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) per capita at 403 reports per 100,000 people, followed by the Poughkeepsie-Newburgh-Middletown and Rochester metro areas.

“Even when there’s no money stolen, resolving the consequences of stolen personal information is complicated and can take months of effort. Often the pain is really felt later, when victims have trouble getting a job, renting an apartment, or getting a loan because their identity was stolen,” DiNapoli said.

Credit card fraud was the most common type of identity theft reported to the FTC in 2020, with nearly 25,000 New Yorkers reporting someone misused their information on an existing credit card account or to open a new account. More than 3,600 identity theft reports related to COVID-19 were reported in the state, with two-thirds connected to unemployment benefits or other government programs, according to the FTC.

Identity thieves also stole individuals’ personal information to get prescription drugs, obtain medical services or medical insurance coverage, the report said.

Even though identity thefts have surged in New York over the past decade, reported arrests and convictions have changed little from year to year, according to DiNapoli. The 543 arrests by state and local authorities in state Fiscal Year 2019-20, as reported by the state’s Division of Criminal Justice Services, were the fewest of the last decade. 

The Unemployment Insurance Services offices in Downtown Brooklyn. Unemployment benefits related to the COVID pandemic were a major target of cyber-thieves in New York State this past year. Eagle file photo by Paul Frangipane

COVID-19 and identity theft

The COVID-19 era has been marked by new varieties of financial fraud, including new identity theft scams. Although the full impact of the pandemic on the problem is not yet known, New Yorkers should be aware of potential scams and guard against them, according to Comptroller Di Napoli.

The FTC has compiled identity theft complaints related to COVID-19 for 2020 through mid-March 2021, reporting 3,617 in New York. Of the state’s identity theft reports, about two-thirds (2,375) were related to information misused to try and get a government document or benefits such as economic relief checks or unemployment insurance.

According to the FTC, impostors are filing claims for unemployment benefits using the names and personal information of people who have not filed claims. People learn about the fraud when they get a notice from the state unemployment benefits office or their employer about their supposed application for benefits. 

As of late April 2021, the New York State Department of Labor had identified more than 1.1 million fraudulent unemployment benefit claims during the COVID-19 pandemic, preventing more than $12.3 billion in stolen benefits.

Identity thieves have also attempted to leverage news of government COVID-related stimulus payments by posing as representatives of an official organization and asking people for personal or financial information. 

They have also tried to exploit pandemic fears by asking victims to unnecessarily pay out of pocket to get a COVID-19 vaccine or to put their name on a vaccine waiting list. In the process, the scamsters take the victims’ Social Security, bank account or credit card information, the report said. 

Private businesses that collect and maintain personal information must redouble their efforts to safeguard such data, DiNapoli said.

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